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Lyndon Blue: Review

Filtering by Category: livemusic

EM BURROWS & THE BEARDED RAINBOW @ MOJO'S BAR, FRIDAY OCTOBER 21

Andrew Ryan

 

To start with the personal: I have a weird relationship with psychedelic rock these days. The genre was my gateway drug to "weird music," and to much of the stuff I love now. As a teenager I prayed at the altar of Syd Barrett, had my brain turned inside out by Mink Mussel Creek and their influences in turn. The genre's become increasingly prevalent in recent years - particularly in Perth and Freo, where the spectre of Tame Impala looms large- and inevitably I find myself critiquing whether its implementation is genuinely mind-expanding, or merely trading on bankable tropes. The latter means witnessing innately experimental music reduced to a "paint by numbers" approach that is the antithesis of the counterculture spirit it's indebted to, which is no fun. And then, there are other times when it's like you're hearing a delay pedal for the very first time again, and the whole world glows in technicolor. Returning to Mojo's after a spell away, I'm met with many shades of psychedelia, folk, rock and pop (often all at once). My brain and heart weave through, trying to unpick what does and doesn't inspire. 

I walk into the sounds of MAJUMBA. At once, the soundscape strikes me as classic dime-a-dozen Fremantle psych-rock: safe bluesy riffs with a bit of fuzz, chugging drums, post-Kevin Parker effects chains, but no apparent imagination. But actually, as their set goes on, it opens up into some cool tangents; rollicking punky codas, thick monotone passages, and there's one song with a particularly beautiful, high melodic bassline that perfectly cocoons its faintly jazzy chords. So no, Majumba aren't the epitome of my grumpy old man grievance, but I guess they're still honing a creative voice; I hope they hone it towards the road less travelled.

Out in the rear courtyard, EMILY GARLICK is gently capturing hearts with a serene, flawless voice and tinkling stratocaster. It's been a while since I heard anyone with such impeccable technique (vocal technique, mic technique, guitar technique) playing at a local pub, though Emily doesn't come off as supercilious in the context. Instead she peacefully works her song-loom, occasionally yielding results that sound a little too polished (in a commercial radio way) but frequently weaving gold, as with the final tune, a magical strain called "Fingernails" that pits unpredictable melody against quick-blooded, melancholic double guitar.

Inside is DIGER ROKWELL who's limbering up into a notably eclectic, joyous string of tunes. The man with the WA cap and t-shirt treats us to a nickelodeon of styles, ranging from vocoder-laden G-funk to space disco, moody house to dusty beat tourism, Hendrix-hop to jungle. While for some producers this might seem confused and cluttered, Diger somehow pulls it all into his motley aesthetic whirlpool and makes it blend, though the variety keeps its sense of reckless liberation. He looks like he's having plenty of fun too. This might be my favourite Diger Rokwell set I've seen. Unable to resist, I dance like a silly fruit tingle.

Out in the garden it's JOHNNY BURROW, the younger cousin of tonight's headliner, armed with just a mic and electric guitar. He uses both to great effect, dispatching wonderful slacker folk songs. They're personal, witty, deadpan without feeling aloof. Reference points come to mind: there's a hint of Malkmus here, as well as the wide-eyed, honest bedroom pop musings of Darren Hanlon etc. But Johnny doesn't specifically sound like anyone at all. Which is pretty remarkable.

Inside we meet MOONPUPPY, a bunch of fresh-faced fellers channelling substantial pop traditions. It's well-orchestrated guitar music that alternately recalls The Smiths, Orange Juice, Mac DeMarco and the languorous vocal croon of Julian Casablancas, among other things. Chords reach beyond standard pop/rock harmony and - thanks to the smooth, mellow delivery - often wander into west coast soft-rock territory. But none of this sounds like postmodern pastiche; it's been arrived at independently, with plenty of heart, and endearing roughness around the edges. A charming Haruomi Hosono cover ('Sports Men'), meanwhile, shows that their influences come from far and wide. They're a pleasure to behold, an earnest reminder of why you liked indie rock in the first place. Definitely "ones to watch," both in the hackneyed music-industry sense but also, just, a band one should go see.

MARLINSPIKE fire up and immediately my psych-rock bullshit radar is on high alert again; the first few minutes play out like generic space-rock jamming that hasn't been novel for forty years. But soon enough this bleeds into song forms, and we get a tune that sounds like a Celtic air channelled through Aussie blues-rock of the '70s. Like Led Zep's folky excursions, but steeped in dank lager. A large part of their appeal is the drums, which are delivered with a clipped accuracy worthy of a marching band (the drummer, in turn, looks incongruously well-groomed). The bass is punctual and plucky too. So, these things pin all the guitar swirl to a taut rhythm section, stretched over jagged edges. And despite their nods to the psych-rock canon, they're not married to it: songs just as readily spiral into passages recalling recent Radiohead, or the melodic post-punk of Television.

And they lob the shuttlecock to the band of the hour, that is, EM BURROWS AND THE BEARDED RAINBOW. The group's releasing an EP tonight, which is called Solitary Sounds although their aesthetic is actually all about big, layered, team-effort arrangements.

And what a sturdy team. Assured bass and effortless drums with a soul music kinda touch; juicy rotary organ, precise chiming guitar, crisp backing vocals and percussion. Of course, Em Burrows sits at the sonic centre: her confident vocal projections and emphatic piano drive these tightly-spun songs forward.

And they are unmistakably songs, not soundscapes or sketches or anything else. Each has a distinct self-contained identity, an instantly memorable hook, clear lyrics. Each boasts a decisive mood and musical lineage. The sanguine, bouncy hemiola feel of 'Weights and Measures' recalls Jethro Tull or early Yes, while 'Solitary Sounds' and 'Dreamers,' tempt comparison to The Zombies and Jefferson Airplane. 'Timeline' is a big bluesy burner, and 'Paces' spreads Doors/Beatles undulations over a funky backbeat.

There's no point pretending this isn't throwback music - right down to their fanciful flower power band name, the Bearded Rainbow wear their influences on their velveteen sleeves. What separates them from any number of retro-rock caricature bands is (firstly) their thrilling adeptness, and (secondly, moreover) the earnest and adventurous quality of the songs. Each feels like a genuine reflection on a contemporary moment, even if it's rendered in a period style, and this honesty is complimented by the pre-ironic optimism of the sound. Lines like "woah-oh, nothing really changes, ah-ah, we're going through our paces" might sound banal in the hands of a lesser artist, but Em Burrows shoots them through with anthemic melody and lively resolve, so the message feels universal and timeless rather than trite. It's a skill epitomised by Fleetwood Mac, who could make axioms hit home with euphoric immediacy - and Em Burrows is on a similar tip, while also peppering her lyrics with psychedelic whimsy (tigers howling at the moon, bubbles in outer space, and so on). In the end, the central and gravitational appeal of Em Burrows and the Bearded Rainbow isn't that they sound a bit like A and B '60s band or use X and Y instrument sound. It's that they're clearly playing the music they absolutely, desperately love, and they're doing it with full commitment and gusto. In moments of such clarity, all my anxiety around the use of psych-rock tropes seems laughably irrelevant. And if such pure musical moments aren't a joy to be cherished, then I don't know what is.  

 

 

CAMP DOOGS @ SOMEWHERE NEAR HARVEY, OCT 7 - 9

Andrew Ryan

Coffee pot whistling, we bundle clothes into bags, grab way more snacks than we will eat and
fewer warm articles than we will need.
The sun’s still naked and glowing as we buzz down the freeway in my plucky hatchback,
stopping in Jandakot with the small planes circling, here to pick up S___, and to load heavy boxes of wine and beer.

South and further south, crucial Miami Bakehouse pies by the mulberry tree and shetland pony (lots of dogs here today).
In Wokalup,

a boarded-up Witch-themed roadhouse

we buy bags of ice and a souvenir stubby holder in fluorescent peach -
before the final stretch of the drive.

Meadows yellowed by capeweed, cows lazing in dense groups,

‘Versaci Soils,’
disco blaring

And

bright pink signs pointing to CAMP DOOGS – they  jump out of the landscape like serendipity, when it collides you with an old friend in a distant city.

Roll down the window: tireless George wands us through. Sliding into the destination, it’s clear the rain of recent days has taken its toll on the earth underfoot.

The hatchback struggles, lurches and clangs down a swampy route to the carpark. But it prevails.

We receive our pink-threaded Doogs dog tags and begin the first muddy slog to the camping field with our ambitious cargo.

As we trudge we see the final touches being put on the main stage, just in time for GORSHA to jump in and sling us some of their slack-jawed, nasty-but-nice Darwin garage punk hootenanny.

The site is a sprawling figure-eight of fields with a lake in the middle, a creek and its capillaries running through, dense trees all around the perimeter. It’s a totally different vista and feeling to the old Doogs site in Nannup. But nevertheless beautiful, in a new, more open, more pastoral kind of way.

We’re setting up camp and getting our bearings for the next while, so I miss some bands that would’ve been good to hear, but such are the misadventures when you forget to bring a tent cover on a weekend promising thunderstorms, and have to improvise a solution (the solution is to have resourceful buddies).

[Sunset]

[dusk]

I’m back down in the lakeside viewing-pit for GWENNO, who blends gently funky, artful electro-pop with the Welsh language so seamslessly you’d think it was common practice.

CALE SEXTON keeps the synthetic ingredients bubbling and increases the pump-pressure,

then over to the ineffable MINK MUSSEL CREEK, my favourite Perth band ever.

Amber Fresh introduces the biggest MMC fan of all – Nick Odell of Cease and Alzabo – to introduce Mink – who blow every leaf off every tree with their fiercer than ever delivery of oddball psych/jazz/jive/sludge classics like ‘Meeting Waterboy,’ ‘They Dated Steadily,’ ‘Cat Love Power’ and ‘Doesn’t the Moon Look Good Tonight.’

The audience is less a group of people and more a big heaving cloud of sweat, mud, limbs and howls. Unreal.

Few could follow Mink Mussel Creek at this point without feeling sheepish, but Melbourne veterans BASEBALL are firecrackers with a comparable kind of feverish, imaginative intensity. They blaze through their set of violin-strewn post-punk, Ev Morris (aka Pikelet) nonchalantly hurling intricate, heavy drum lines while singing; frontfeller Thick Passage (Cam Potts) screeching his evocative lyrical tales inspired by middle eastern history, the whole thing a thunderous thrill.

Things can’t really get any wilder, so now, an alternate tack –

the smooth track –

the mellow, cratedigger-informed jazz of Melbourne’s KRAKATAU.

Bandleader James Tom’s keys glide like a magic carpet;

much-loved Perth expat Jack Doepel switches calmly between sax and keyboard duties, massaging brains deeply with both.

The night gushes on:

DEEP DOOGS, a flashing steamy gumbo cavity

the undulating selections of RIVER YARRA

and glow-sticks and rum

and the magnificent MORI RA

Eventually enough friends have succumbed to the night

And I slink out through the trees, over the creek

and I stomp through the dark with organiser doog Matt Acorn

who’s been valiantly MCing on the fly ‘coz Tristan got sick

and Matty gets stuck knee deep in the mud but we pry him out like a scarf from a car door

In my tent it is cold and damp and getting damper as the skies open up and the patter becomes a roar but I curl up in the driest patch and wrap the dry bits of sleeping bag and doona around me and give myself over to fate.

[Saturday Morning. Grey light, pre-dawn]

I’d said I’d do a sunrise performance on Sunday and maybe Saturday too, and heck I’ve woken up at 5am so why not. I slip out the zip, stomp through the frosty air to my car, fetch a guitar and an amp and a sampler. It starts raining, I dash for the nearest undercover area, which is the main stage. No-one is around save for one technician clambering around to keep things dry. I try to help and then I set up my stuff.

“Whaddya doing ya crazy dickhead? There’s no-one around! Go to bed.”

He’s right of course, but I’m here now and I feel like playing, so I strum a gentle drone into the foggy, wet, silvery sunrise as the man clambers into the back of a truck to sleep.

A few hours later, the sun a little higher -

it’s the BURUNDI PEACE BAND & CHOIR
I’m immediately smiling, overwhelmed by the life-affirming East African grooves and the group’s heartwarming community vibe. Keyboard drum machine keeps things pumping along, guitar pings, bass gambols, the choir’s voices ring out in a rich polyphony. At the end of the set, kids emerge from backstage - break dancing and doing backflips – I’m grinning my head off and my eyes are wet and it’s not from the rain.

Soon, HEARING – another Melbourne band; hard to google, with ridiculously good pop songs, well-balanced arrangements with beautiful clean-guitar lead lines, all buoyed by Liv’s flawless vocals. One of the weekend’s surprise highlights for sure.

A quick lap of the property, a visit/last repsects paid to the semi-submerged Mitsubishi Magna in the too-deep dip in the side road… RIP

And VERGE COLLECTION – undeniably fun, hummable guitar music embracing the “dolewave” fascination with suburban banality, personal narratives and jangly chords, but forgoing the fairly common affected sloppiness. The screws are screwed in tight and shiny in the comfort of a well-lit back shed.

ALL THE WEATHERS are willfully silly, wonderful and baffling; ADAM SAID GALORE are dark and jagged, tucked into a kind of niche tonality that sounds like nothing else this weekend. LALIC (pictured) bring emotive spacious prog-pop – hazy, layered, erratic, unshaken by the breeze of trends.

Reformed Perth unit MILE END sound impossibly tight and intense after so much time apart, and are a thrill to watch, as buddies drift by behind them on the lake on a dinghy. SARAH MARY CHADWICK soon after is a total u-turn, raw, bare, direct and at times clumsy; ultimately honest and great.

The afropop energy of SOUKOUSS INTERNATIONALE results in a big sexy muddy party in the rain, before Melbourne’s GREGOR brings us approachable yet arcane indie rock, expounding a kind of slow-burn harmonic science.

PIKELET jumps up solo and forges a set consisting of relatively few songs, but each one a masterpiece, delivered with Evelyn’s trademark casual virtuosity (on the synth, looper, floor tom, voice etc) and lo-fi sensibility. It’s a low-key but high-spirited performance imbued with a simmering political polemic (back to back anti-capitalism missives!) and lots of bright, earnest love (back to back songs about gratitude for friends).

CATE LE BON closes the main stage with joyously ragged melodic rock music, twang and pummel underscored by thoughtful songwriting and overlaid with some of the weekend’s standout vocals.

those were some musical things that happened

but have I even begun to communicate

the smiling soul of camp doogs?

have I told you about:

the ‘deep water greenhouse,’ (the cosy ambient tent jack and rory made and that countless beautiful people played in)?

ECOHOONS: bmx riding with magenta body armour and gabber blasting?

IRL body-marbling?

the magic drag of ash baroque?

naked swimmers?

quesadillas?

tarot readings by the campfire?

club mate?

blisters?

sunrise performance #2, the proper one, with L___ reading poems,
with people asleep on the trampoline and the couches,
someone sipping whisky as the sun comes up?

deep doogs #2, when it got moved to the Wild Doogs stage coz the original one was too munted by the rain, and Mori Ra powered through the morning with a blissful rainbow of japanese pop?

the cows?

the purple flowers?

the yellow raincoats?

shaved heads kissing in the half-light?

the ferns?

the creaking branches?

the ludicrous chats?

the bushwalks?

the ominous slate-coloured clouds?

the glorious, finally emerging sun?

have I really told you about camp doogs?

I cannot.
But if you were there, you know what it was – you feel it in your breath, in your blood, and in between your mud-stained toes.
And if you weren’t. I hope I’ll see you next year. 

Good doogs.

Photo credit: Eleni Battalis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

THE SONICS @ THE ROSEMOUNT HOTEL, TUESDAY SEPT 28

Andrew Ryan

(1)

The electric guitar crackled into existence with the experiments of George Beauchamp, Paul Barth and Adolph Rickenbacker around 1931. Technological innovations have usually heralded new approaches in composition and performance, so it’s tempting to see the early ‘30s as a subtle turning point in which the organic, age-old sounds of acoustic music began to transform into the unnatural and explosive tones which became rock and other modern genres. But is that how it went?

No doubt the early 20th century reconfigured what could constitute music in terms of timbre and sound-source. Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo had written his influential manifesto The Art of Noises in 1913, calling for an embrace of machine sounds in musical orchestration.  Synthesizers were already in production, with alien-sounding devices like the theremin emerging in the ‘20s. But the early electric guitars were mostly used to boost the instrument’s volume in a big band context, and the original synths were used as science-fair novelties, or to replace solo instruments in conservative genres like classical music (with some notable avant-garde exceptions). To my mind, the freakish idiosyncrasies of these musical inventions didn’t fully realize themselves as popular music styles until the ‘50s. By then, synths had proto-techno pioneers like Kid Baltan & Tom Dissevelt, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and more pushing the electronic sound in new directions (not least the direction of suburban lounge rooms). The electric guitar had mavericks such as Howlin’ Wolf, Pat Hare, Chuck Berry and Sister Rosetta Tharpe whose increasingly frenzied songs and playing styles developed alongside deliberate distortion of the guitar signal. Link Wray was toying with vacuum tubes and poking holes in speaker cones with pencils to get a dirtier, fuzzier sound.

And soon enough, in 1960, The Sonics formed, bringing electric guitar freak-out to a fever pitch. The name reads as a mission statement: they weren’t chasing any particular musical nuance, but rather the raw impact of sound itself. Their first single (‘The Witch’ in 1964) still sounds like a train hurtling towards you, threatening to fall apart - with its primal vocals, sandpaper guitar and spluttering drums. When it flips into an insane double-time tempo one minute in, it’s easy to hear why people often peg The Sonics as key progenitors of punk.

Who’d have guessed that such an immediate and incendiary band would still be touring in 2016? But the tunes have aged remarkably well. The Sonics’ recordings were a revelation for me in high school, and seeing that they were coming to Perth for the first time, I had to get along.

(2)

I meet D___ and F___ in the warm dining room that adjoins the Rosemount and 459 Bar. We listen to some of the mellow jazz billowing out of the latter, sipping dark ale before heading into the Rosie band room to the hectic sounds of THEE LOOSE HOUNDS. The band wears their garage punk influences on their well-tailored sleeves; the “Thee” is a kind of genre-signifier meme which probably emerged to differentiate garage bands with similar names, as with Sonics-era group Thee Midnighters. Later on you get Thee Headcoats, Thee Mighty Caesars, Thee Oh Sees etc. This band even has a song called ‘Painkillers’ which you’ve gotta suppose is at least a partial homage to the Perth duo. Anyway, as much as they belong to a tradition, Thee Loose Hounds also sound fresh and volatile: blurted vocals and squealing guitar thrashing about over weedy organ tones and spirited drums. The neurotic spasms of a song like ‘Diggin’ will appeal as much to fans of Eddy Current or Royal Headache as early Horrors: it hits you at a pre-intellectual level, like a spank, and balances aural nostalgia carefully against modern punk flavours and the trio’s specific palette (notably lacking in bass, but not to their detriment).

(3)

“All the way from Tacoma, Washington” says a man in black, “please welcome THE SONICS.”

The hitherto reserved crowd erupts in a high-pitched scream, and five more men in black walk on stage. They get in position behind a bass, saxophone, guitar, keyboard and drums respectively, and without any nonsense launch into the power-chord driven 1966 track ‘Cinderella.’ Like most Sonics songs, the lyrics are simple, bordering on banal: “She's got-a pretty long hair, And she's five-foot-two / When she ran away, I found her glass shoe.” But the delivery is so fierce that every phrase sounds genuinely desperate - and you’re happily sucked into the narrator’s jive party dilemma.

The set rolls along with this persistent party energy, the crowd responding in tow with plenty of twists and shouts. There’s only the occasional spoken interjection - usually from founding member and saxophonist Rob Lind, who offers rally cries and contagious goofy smiles. He mentions his excitement at finally making a Perth visit, and seems to really mean it. This positivity suffuses the whole experience, an wide-eyed celebration of reckless rock in its rawest form.

A surge of excitement arrives for the band’s iconic version of Richard Berry’s ‘Have Love Will Travel,’ and classics like ‘Boss Hoss,’ mixed in with equally good tunes off 2015’s This Is The Sonics - their first original LP in 49 years. There’s the blistering boogie of ‘Bad Betty,’ written by the band’s original keyboardist and vocalist Jerry Roslie, delivered by touring member Jake Cavaliere with perhaps more excitement than any other tune of the night. On other songs, vocal duties are passed over to touring bassist Freddie Dennis, formerly of The Kingsmen - his molten screech is a brilliant addition, and fits perfectly with their established howling sound. Fellow new tune ‘Be a Woman’ gets pride of place near the end of the set - having been written in Australia, for The Sonics, by the Hoodoo Gurus. It’s tailed by fan favourite ‘Psycho,’ with its unforgettable hook, excellent drum fills and emphatic backbeat delivered by former Link Wray drummer Dusty Watson. The crowd has now truly forgotten it’s Tuesday night and is straight-up cutting loose. The Sonics slink off stage but are soon back - of course - with their other biggest goth/protopunk hits, ‘Strychnine’ and ‘The Witch.’ 

I’m frequently skeptical of “reunion tours,” particularly with scant original members, which capitalise on the glories of bygone decades. But who can blame this group of guys who happened to age - but lost none of their uncommon gusto - for playing rock and roll? The Sonics sound as tight as they did in their supposed heyday, and to avoid becoming a “jukebox band,” they say, they wrote a new album. Lo and behold - it’s as good as much of the garage-rock contemporaries that have built upon The Sonics’ sound in the interim. Why stop now?

 

 

POSTCARD FROM THE NT #2 FEAT. METHYL ETHEL @ THE LIGHTHOUSE, AUGUST 16

Andrew Ryan

G’day again from the Top End. A week or two deep into my first Northern Territory immersion, it doesn’t feel any more mundane or predictable. Still seeing a new bird with a new kind of brightly-coloured dinosaur crest every day, or a new outrageous-looking lizard, or a curious establishment advertising rodeos and crocodile waterskiing. This seems like a place that reveals itself gradually, if at all. 

The weekend arrives in Katherine town, so we scout out the nightlife. There’s Kirby’s, the corner pub, which local wisdom suggests is probably best avoided unless you like pokies and fights. There’s the “Golfy” (Golf Club) which rumour has it may be pretty raucous tonight (not sure why). But we settle on Mahogany’s, which boasts a courtyard dense with fronds, a brightly-lit buffet dining hall, $5 Toohey’s and a dingy billiards room with free jukebox. So the night evolves into a rolling playlist of INXS, Roxy Music, Australian Crawl et al, and we drink cheap lager and play pool against two young American soldiers with stern faces and haircuts you could slice carrots on. We almost win, too, but I sink the cue ball while shooting for the black, to the tune of Meat Loaf’s ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).’ Possibly “that” is beating two burly GIs at pool who look like they’d be none too happy to lose. 

The next day we visit Edith Falls, a forty-five minute drive out of Katherine. Paddling in the lower pool, a natural clear-watered swimming hole, I weave through languid frogs and large black-striped fish. I climb onto a rock teeming with bright green tree ants and survey the scene. A small cascade emerges from a green gully and streams into the reservoir. Two kilometres up the hill, in the top pool, a far larger waterfall tumbles into a shining surface ringed by red-earth crags. We swim past rocky islands to the torrent, and through the wall of thick, gushing water. On the other side is a tiny room: one wall is black rock, the other three are hissing white water, and the floor is all shadowy ripples. I recommend visiting this tiny room if you ever want to feel like you’re in a secret inside-pocket of the world’s great big coat. 

The next morning I say goodbye to Dook the dog, and then we’re in a ute owned by a friendly accountant who’s hastening to Darwin to catch a flight. He tells us about his home town in North India and his cricket teams and how he’s going to visit a lavender farm and a potato chip factory in Tasmania. I offer him some potato chips. In Darwin we haul into the share house that’s putting us up, which is obscured by palms and all turquoise walls, wood and air. I walk to the NT Art Gallery and Museum, where classic Papunya Tula paintings (which in the 1970s established the now-ubiquitous dot painting style) sit alongside old fishing boats, stuffed snakes, political cartoons and an audio installation recreating the sound environment of Cyclone Tracy. 

Tuesday crops up, which means nothing, until I notice that Perth band Methyl Ethel are playing a Darwin Festival show. After sunset we sip spiced rum and walk brisk down Smith Street mall, toward Festival Park, where several hundred light bulbs hang between the tamarind trees.  

Scooching into the Lighthouse, which is actually less a house and more a circle of wooden fencing with a stage and a crown of more hanging lights, we hear Methyl Ethel’s first chord ring out. What simultaneously slaps and tickles your ear is the distinctive Jake Webb guitar sound, pseudo-orchestral, with the perfect smattering of delay and lush modulation. Add Thom Stewart’s decisive p-bass thump, and Chris Wright’s smooth and punctual drum talents, and you immediately recognise the tight, increasingly widely-loved Methyl Ethel sound. As far as far-flung appeal goes, how many Perth art rock bands could zip up to Darwin and pack out the main festival stage before the set even starts, on a Tuesday night? Not many I’d reckon, but this trio are worthy claimants to the honour.

They’ve long since got these tunes down pat, effortlessly locking in with synth, vocal and noise samples triggered from Webb’s Roland 404, or Wright’s SPD-S. Even without these additions, though, the band produces an astoundingly big sound: guitar chime and reverb, vocal echo and full-bodied rhythm section tones filling out the sonic space. This more or less consistent palette is repurposed for myriad purposes. There’s the persistent, sparse dream-funk of ‘Idée Fixe’; the UFO-abduction soft rock of ‘Rogues’; the 12/8 choral pump of ‘Unbalancing Act’ and the feel-good rollick of ‘Twilight Driving’ in which go-to Aussie sax guy (and Darwin resident) Gus Rigby jumps up and lets out a golden spiral of reedy strains.

All throughout the crowd is either still and transfixed, or dancing with smiling unruliness. Maybe the only negative response is when Webb announces he’s going to have a drink of water, to which one gruff punter bellows: “Drink beer!” On balance, I reckon Methyl Ethel would have to be pretty happy with their reception. Orrite, more from up here next week. Stay warm, sandgropers!

WEIRD FREQUENCY PRESENTS: SALT LAKE SUNDOWNER #2, SATURDAY JANUARY 5

Andrew Ryan

It’s the first weekend of the year. Not much has changed, really – a “two” is now a “three,” recycling bins are full of calendars – but like any January it seems a little bit fresh. The cap has been popped and the year still has all the fizz in it. Anything can happen and it probably will. We might find life on mars. Someone might decide to throw a generator party on a salt lake. Maybe it will be Coel Healy (of Water Graves, Weird Frequency) and his buddies that do it. Maybe there will be bands, and food, and fairy lights.

The shadows are long by the time we decide to head to the salt lake. We squeeze ginger ale, vodka, mint and ice into an unassuming bottle and dash to the city, sliding down escalators to the Mandurah train. We chug on and the sun plunges, smearing flamey orange-pink across cumuli and treetops. About now, a quorum of folk are forming a ring around Alex Last and some jam-buddies, but I’m stuck on a locomotive, so my good friend / super-special-guest-reviewer Alex Wolman will write a little bit now, from the comfort of the Baldivis salt lake:

“SEER WAVE is the solo project of SALAMANDER frontman Alex Last, except it involves all the members of Salamander…and a couple more. Whereas Salamander’s sound is extremely dark and primarily concerned with feelings and ideas of, as Last puts it, “ecstasy,” Seer is an altogether much happier affair; the drum beats a little bit funky and the synths resoundingly exultant.”

…We jump off the train and navigate the shrub that skirts the highway. Alex:

“I found myself in a meditative trance during the first two songs. Both of them jerked and veered around with strange sounds and rhythms that were kept from becoming discordant by a wall of enveloping ambience. The final number saw the rest of the band leave with only Chloe and Alex left on different synths. It was almost a dance song with a strong driving beat that Last would drop out and pull back expertly; using his 404 in a rhythmic way, rather than for soundscapes as he does in Salamander.”

We turn a corner and approach the swirling sounds coming from beyond the trees. The faint, phasing clamour and a huddle of cars are the only clues that a few metres down the sandbank a new band called STARCLEANER are playing, and Matt “Magnolia’s” Acorn is cooking quesadillas and spiced corn and fried banana, and peddling mate, and smiling figures are gathered by the dozens. Starcleaner are beautifully matched to their surroundings tonight, or vice-versa; the fresh ensemble plays a sort of soft-hued dream pop with gently driving psych-rock rhythms, and the mass of sound billows and whirls in the open air, carried to our ears on the breeze. The songs don’t seem hugely distinctive in isolation, but the amorphous cloud of wonderfully perfumed tunes suits us fine. I will keep an ear out for Starcleaner; they already sound tight and rich and comfortable and can only get better from here.

We drink the ginger punch (Alex chistens it the “Albany Mule” – like a Moscow Mule, but if a mule was supposed to walk from Perth to Albany it would probably give up somewhere around Baldivis Salt Lake). DOCTOPUS spread their suckered limbs into the dimming air, imbuing the mood with equal parts melancholy and ramshackle jocular fun. Fairy lights draped over bushes become invaluable sources of illumination as Stephen Bellair narrates slack-jawed suburban tales of love, frustration and goodtimes. A massive grasshopper befriends us and treks over our various limbs. The quesadillas prove unbelievably delicious. And between sets, the FACE DJs – Nathan & Rhys Savage – provide sanguine dance nuggets – all buoyant synths and techno throbs lending a neon edge to proceedings, occasionally transforming the night into a sort of tasteful ‘90s bush-doof. The generator is switched off briefly to refuel. Pitch-black, near silence. It’s back on soon, and we’re back to bathing in a thin yellow glow.

But nothing quite so perfectly electrifies the salt lake as the final band of the evening, ELECTRIC TOAD – and I swear on my life that I decided to use the word “electrify” before I even remembered the band’s name, which shows just how apt the name is, before we even get to the fact that toads (probably) live in/around lakes (maybe not salt ones) (I dunno). The ‘Toad has swollen considerably since I last bore witness, and maybe it’s a one-off augmentation, but it’s totally awesome – five (yes, FIVE) electric guitarists, including hunks from local garage group HAMJAM, and the three boys from DOCTOPUS, as well as Richard Ingham of TACO LEG on 2nd drums. And the super-group’s exactly as fun as it sounds – a total free-for-all thick with way too many power chords and Bellair’s punky vocals up front plus Jeremy Cope – a sort of Puck-like figure, but taller – hopping around with a tambourine. The throng fixates on simple riffy songs, turning humble 2-3 chord tunes into sprawling bombastic outback avalanches. Everyone is dancing which kicks up clouds of red-brown dust and salt into the night sky and a flood light drowns bushes and low-growing gum trees in brightness. After a particularly to-the-point Black Flag-esque number, Bellair runs like a bewildered caveman into the thicket, returned drenched in blood. Must’ve encountered a local bunyip. During an extra scary Stooges-eque track he returns to the bushes, stumbling around, pursued by Jeremy Cope, returning to pour the rest of the “blood” all over himself. In the next song Cope tackles Bellair to the ground, resulting in what looks like another James-Brown-esque faux-injury routine, but proves to be an actual broken/sprained/damaged leg. The band trucks on as the ice pack is applied. Bellair and the boys receive rapturous applause.

Yes, dust, sweat, fake blood, and actual casualties – the ‘Toad went hard tonight.

We gaze at the all-consuming hemisphere of stars and inky black and feel the energy bouncing everywhere, the exuberance, the freedom and the party for its own sake, on its own terms. The world is a baffling web of agendas and commerce and careers and complications and in this way an entry-by-donation gig on a salt lake feels like a fundamentally subversive thing, a genuine momentary utopia that refuses to be sucked into the vortex of modern-day bunkum, especially when it is loud and outrageous and beautiful and fleeting. But that subversion, or whatever, is totally beside the point of this joyous, unpretentious, life-affirming and fresh-aired occasion. This is about good people and wide open spaces and the sunset and sound and sensual delights and positive vibrations. Things that are good and will always be good, however weird the world gets. Which sets the tone for the new year rather nicely, if you ask me.

Picture by Swa Hili

WEDNESDAYS PRESENTS: AWESOME TAPES FROM AFRICA @ THE BIRD, WEDNESDAY JANUARY 17

Andrew Ryan

Rewind, if you will, to the foetal stages of the first decade of this millenium. A young man named Brian Shimkovitz is studying at Indiana University. His degree: ethnomusicology. He is curious, wide-eared, feeling his way through that thrilling intersection of culture and sound. It’s around this time that, luckily for us, someone introduces him to the music of Nigerian legend Fela Kuti. This encounter will set in motion an interest in African music that could be politely be described as avid – and quite reasonably as obsessive.

The revelation of Kuti led Brian to Ghana in 2002, where he sought to research highlife music in Accra and beyond. But the journey didn’t end there.

What Brian especially noticed, in day-to-day Africa, was hip-hop; sometimes recalling popular American sounds, at other times blasted to new dimensions through hybridization with distinctly African sounds and affordable, ad-hoc equipment. Itching to delve deeper, he returned to Ghana in 2004, now swimming through the mind-boggling, psychedelic coral reef of African subgenres. He opened his ears to anything he could, nomatter how obscure: from vintage funk and lo-fi disco to high-scool rap, electro-juju, zouk, mbalax (not to mention a million other genre names I daren’t say aloud for fear of mispronouncing) – a never-ending web of remarkable, beautiful and sometimes baffling music all contained on spools of magentic tape within mysterious, reticent paper-and-plastic casings.

Returning to his Brooklyn dwelling with a treasure trove of largely unheard musical gems, Brian did what any benevolent music-lover would do – he started a blog. Little did he know that his humble website – AWESOME TAPES FROM AFRICA – would become a cultural phenomenon, introducing legions of fascinated music fans to artists and records they would never have otherwise heard.

Now, Brian has made his way to Terra Australis. “Wednesdays” – the promotion dream team of Andrew Sinclair and Nik Ridiculous – have put together a party to coincide with his Perth visit. Excellent news.

I wander the humid city and the cool spray of summer rain keeps me in good spirits. The sky’s turning from slate grey to black. Ambling along James Street I encounter a chain of friendly faces, buying ice cream or burgers or riding bicycles. Northbridge seems to beam and sigh as the day slips out from under it. I drop into Ya-Yas to watch the always amusing and bemusing Alex Griffin (Ermine Coat) play some songs, which he seems to be doing a better job of all the time. Then a beeline for The Bird, where I catch the wonderful SAM KUZICH (of Cosmo Gets, The Growl) spinning a selection of mint, Africa-inspired tunes to lubricate the airwaves. The Bird is bulging already. As a result, the would-be dancefloor is tightly populated by the time SAVOIR light the fuse on their musical dynamite (ohhh yeah).

Mei “Saraswati” Swan Lim is front and centre, mic, camo-print jacket, shimmering aura of steeze; she’s flanked by producer-boys Andrew Sinclair and James Ireland. The beats come thick and hard, never compromising artistry for party vibes and never conceding party vibes for artistry. The tunes are pretty varied, spanning R’n’B, hip hop, afrobeat, house and ‘80s synth smoothness, but it’s all unified by a distinctive aesthetic umbrella. I don’t know how they do it, frankly. It’s a kind of wonderful alchemy that you can’t engineer. Wavelength. Mei uses her voice as a kind of tuned percussion, emphasising pulsating, snaking rhythms as much as tone and melody. She moves with every beat, and announces tongue-in-cheek frustration at the crowd’s immobility (“what’s the fucking point if you don’t dance?” she grins). Limbs, sneakers, hips respond accordingly, flailing and blurring with the booms, croons, claps and flutters. It’s a Wednesday night sweat monsoon. I say this about local bands’ sets with a kinda surprising frequency, but I never say it lightly: SAVOIR’s set tonight is absolutely world class, easily one of the best local sets I’ve seen in recent memory. These three could take over the world any minute. SAVOIR C’EST POUVOIR.

Feeling invigorated and impatient, a friend and I duck out, back to Ya-Yas to watch the freshly reformed and re-shuffled post-punky pop band DAVE. They do a good Fleetwood Mac cover, and some new songs, as well as some old ones. The crowd is large and cheerful. We zip back to The Bird, in time to hear some sweltering grooves proffered by the BEN TAAFE and DONNA KEBABEY, before the auspicious tape-deck setup of Brian Shimkovitz takes centre stage.

The cassette clicks in and is off like fireworks. You might expect some thin, tinny, lo-fi sounds to emerge from old dusty cassettes from African marketplaces but not so. These recordings, blooming through the formidable Bird PA system, sound rich and majestic, each driving kick drum and frenentic bongo exploding like a plump cherry tomato. Syncopated West-African guitars are silvery backflipping dolphins of sound meandering sanguinely across dense tapestries of rhythm. Artificial shonky rototoms thrum under life-affirming vocal refrains. Adeptly beatmatching complex cassette grooves (something I’ve never seen anyone do), Brian takes you firmly by the wrist and leads you through a winding labyrinth of unbelievable upbeat musical utopias. The room is a surge of bouncing twisting bodies. You can see the steam rising from shoe-tongues.

It’s not unfair to have a dash of scepticism at the notion. The cynic could read it all like this: middle-class intellectual from Brooklyn pillages the marketplaces of Ghana, returns to America, shares his exotic bounty with online multitudes of obscurity-hungry hipsters and having built a modest blogosphere empire, journeys to Western-world capital cities playing the tapes for middle-class youths to dance to. The process has drawn criticism from those who perceive dubious post-colonial attitudes in Brian’s methodology: the free distribution of another culture’s music, the goggling at bizarre and kitsch tape covers and surreally semi-familiar warped sounds.

But those who follow ATFA closely know this isn’t the case. For Brian, the blog is a labour of love, a selfless gesture aimed at both helping his peers hear these incredible sounds as well as helping many (often hard-done-by in their own careers) African artists reach exposure beyond their own shores – something which, in his experience, these musicians are invariably hopeful for. His knowledge is sweeping, almost Encyclopaedic, researched with the rigour of an ethnomusicologist but with the heart and soul of a DJ and avid music fan. The latter is clear as he bounces around the stage, spectacles reflecting red, yellow and green, hands in the air, singing along. True, maybe most of us are crucially removed from the context in which this music was made, ignorant largely to the social conditions and artistic influences that contributed to what we’re hearing and moving to. But the energy, the sonic and visceral splendour of the tunes, needs no translation – and while the tunes don’t tell the whole story, they’re a pretty special entry point. Brian Shimkovitz now lives in Berlin, and has expanded ATFA into its own record label. The project, already more than six years in the making, shows no signs of slowing down. Awesome.”

HEARTLESS ROBOT END-OF-YEAR SHOW @ THE BAKERY, FRIDAY DEC 28

Andrew Ryan

The earth has been cooking all day long. The seas are steaming, the trees are wilting, cars are melting into puddles of hot steel goop. I spot a dog whose tail is smoking like a fuse. The poor little guy howls at the merciless sun and I pour a trickle of beer on his tail to extinguish it.

Yes, the supposed Mayan end-of-the-world has been and gone with precisely the amount of fanfare one might expect (all bark and no bite). Subsequently Christmas has come as usual, over-filled our bellies, and ducked out again. But perhaps the apocalypse is still just getting started (those Mayans could easily have been out by a week or two), judging by the relentless swelter. An oasis is sorely required.

So as the searing sand-dunes simmer in the honey light of sunset, we haul ourselves over them, into a refuge of darkness, driftwood and sea containers, a refuge supplied tonight by the Heartless Robot local record label. The stretches of turf and the strong breezes are mirages, but mirages will do. And as we arrive and dive slow-motion into hazy pints of apple cider we find ourselves surrounded by the sounds of local avant-orchestra DECIBEL (in condensed format), who take on a newfound air in the context of this apocalyptic haven; the misshapenly beautiful soundtrack to a wasteland shelter.

WATER TEMPLE swoop down and deliver just what the brain requires; a mixture of minimal doom (topical), cerebral punk and instrumental vintage trash. It is simultaneously tight and messy, like paint-splattered lycra. It’s a good thing. Somehow BROWN manages to deliver a set of good old noise-addled, spring-infused weirdness despite main man Adam being on crutches (if anyone can do it it’s him).

BAMODI bring a standout set to the evening’s proceedings: immaculate fastness and high-pitched punky vocal shrieks. I haven’t seen this trio in a long time, probably not since Will Hooper (Water Temple) and Matt Bairstow (SmRts) joined mainstay Kenta McGrath. This incarnation is sounding superb, with the intensity and eccentricity to compare well to the Japanoise and frantic hardcore bands from which they no doubt draw influence. It’s furious and loud, but never negative – ultimately just firecracker-type fun inducing positive feels.

Cat Hope-led ensemble ABE SADA quickly interject to remind us that the world may indeed still be ending. The premise of the act is simple: bass guitars only, loud, improvised. The resulting mass of sound is both impenetrable and endlessly complex, a cloud of deep rumblings and mingling frequencies. Low-end groans compete to capture your ear’s focus, while higher and ‘toppier’ layers swirl and interact in another hemisphere of dense sound; the whole thing is like a kaleidoscope of storm clouds. Not without nuance, the set traverses a range of moods, dynamics, and even hints at tonal motifs, without ever allowing them to fully surface. Dream-like and compelling, Abe Sada remain exemplary in their field.

PREDRAG DELIBASIC has been thrumming a bass with Abe Sada and, not one to slack off, he now swaps it for a guitar to perform with his own group SMRTS. Tonight is like a big venn diagram; Matt Bairstow who played drums with Bamodi is now up on guitar, while Chris Cobilis who’s about to perform a duo set appears on drum kit. It’s a reminder of the Perth scene’s ongoing incestuousness but equally the impressive versatility and open-mindedness of the musicians on the Heartless Robot roster. SMRTS play their wonderful surf/punk/folk/rock and for the first time on this incapacitatingly hot night people find their bodies convulsing in a dance-like way. It’s a post-Christmas miracle.

Finally CHRIS COBILIS and CRAIG MCELHINNEY rise to the podium to conceive the fusion known simply as CHRIS & CRAIG. Laptops, 404s, a cap and an AC/DC sweat towel: observe the recipe for late-night party fever and aural satisfaction. Throttling the grey-suited CEO of Convention, these two pitt noisy electronic melodies and a capella shanties against fragile disco interpolations, thumping house frenzies, frosty drones and textured canopies of sound. Occasionally Chris will mumble or half-sing something into the microphone. Craig will smirk and peer down, hiding his face as usual with his hat-peak. The set takes us through the centre of the earth and the centre of our souls… and then leaves us all alone, confused, naked and sweaty. Thanks a lot Chris & Craig.

And thankYOU, Heartless Robot – an oasis when we needed it the most, and not a Gallagher in sight. To quote Galadriel – a light in dark places, when all other lights go out. And now – back to kneeling within a pagan-type ring of oscillating fans with a cold wet towel over my head and a Calippo in my mouth. Happy New Year everybody! Stay Cool!

GROOVIN THE MOON FEAT. DOCTOPUS & ZEALOUS CHANG, SUNDAY DECEMBER 16

Andrew Ryan

The day was long, hot and dry, a Sunday with the stress on the first syllable, a heavy slab of summer in its more drowsy mode. Snooze button, sheen of sweat, inertia. The sky gradually darkens and the bird-songs change: it’s very much time to either write-off the day entirely or get out of the house. I’m thirsty, so the latter wins out.

I follow my nose, which follows the moon, which is looking fine tonight, a faintly lit orb (like a dying light bulb) with a vibrant crescent down its left side. It leads me down gently busy city streets and towards a Café that shares its name, its façade lit by a string of lively lightbulbs, its innards always glowing a brooding deep red. A Whisky Sour sounds good at this point. But my ears are thirsty too.

DJ JACK QUIRK (of Perth/Apricot Rail infamy) is on the laptop-decks, stirring up some tender cuts, from wild free jazz to local excellence (Mink Mussel Creek classic “Doesn’t the Moon Look Good Tonight” gets a topical airing). Quirk’s selections are superb, but halfway through my whisky sour, as I begin to contemplate eating the maraschino cherry, I’m hankering for some live-action action.

DOCTOPUS come rushing to the rescue. Well no, that’s a lie, they’re definitely not rushing. I don’t feel like Stephen, Jeremy and John have ever rushed in their lives. They are far too chilled out. They are probably the most chilled out band in the world. You could release a wild panther into their presence and Jeremy would probably keep noodling on the guitar and Stephen would try to teach it a cool handshake and John would share the rest of his pizza with it and then all four of them would play Frisbee. In apt reflection of this relaxed collective demeanour, Doctopus offer a laid-back set tonight, performing their usual tunes but in a toned down and pared back format. This doesn’t stop Stephen Bellair from occasionally screeching about “money”, “the future” and “bullshit,” because it wouldn’t be Doctopus without a little bite. But from the smooth, jaunty licks to the understated, sparse drum hits and the lilting basslines – amongst excited banter about forthcoming Parma and/or Pasta – this set is more a fine mist than a water-jet, slowly and gently coating you instead of squirting you sharply in the belly. Doctopus play four songs, then a surprise fifth, then make a move towards their meals, which is probably the closest thing you’ll see to them rushing.

As Doctopus chow down a group called ZEALOUS CHANG rise in their place. What is a “Chang”? I know it is a beer; apparently it is also a kind of Persian harp, a rollercoaster, a Klingon General and a few other things, namely a name. I’m not sure exactly which one this band are trying to evoke but my bet is on the Klingon General, Klingon Generals seem like pretty zealous guys. These musicians seem like zealous guys insofar as they have clearly practised hard in order to make their instruments make sounds they like; no settling for “close enough.” The result is a set of dense, mellow and meticulous music, tending towards grooves and live electronica, wrought with mostly traditional rock instruments. Among the guitars, drums and bass seep thick, tasteful synths and occasional noise disintegrations. Any genre tag would be too lazy to describe these guys, but perhaps interband comparison helps establish a ballpark: fans of Holy Fuck, The Octopus Project, Margins and other pleasantly driving instrumental acts should get a kick out of Zealous Chang. What’s more, they serve it all up with zero pretention and a nice bit of humour: they openly pay homage to likely influence Radiohead by covering “Everything In Its Right Place” as a faintly jazzy instrumental, and pay homage to the silly season by committing to a rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock.” Kudos, jokes like that rarely make it past the hypothetical stage, and they make it sound pretty damn good.

DOCTOPUS have an album, aptly titled “Buddies,” on its way through Future Past Records. ZEALOUS CHANG have a bunch of tunes up on Bandcamp and hopefully more on the way. These are two bands who are yet to really grow into what feels like their full potential, but are nevertheless already great, and who show real super promise of the sort that genuinely gets me excited. I’d recommend keeping eyes and ears peeled; tonight they conquer the Moon; tomorrow, who knows.

DARAMAD @ KULCHA, SATURDAY NOVEMBER 24

Andrew Ryan

Cafeterias aglow, bars percolating with cheers and laughs, street-wanderers with smiling eyes. There are cycle rickshaws suddenly populating the streets, offering fewer emissions but a lot more whimsy. Right now I feel like I don’t make the journey to Fremantle often enough; and it’s hardly an arduous journey. You can get on a train and close your eyes and emerge, like Dorothy in Oz, at the ceramic-swan-festooned Fremantle Station. And so here I am. A stairwell tucked between two cafés beckons.

Kulcha floats above the street; from the balcony you can peer over neighbouring tin rooftops and antique façades. Sounds of buskers and cavorters, scents of pizza, coffee, ale and harbour breeze, rise to your senses. Inside, the darkened room is bulging with bodies – largely bodies that are over forty years old, but sprightly, enlivened bodies anyhow. I’m not sure if the lion’s share of this crowd comprises friends of the band, or if it just feels that way (Fremantle is a friendly place). Either way, the vibe upon entering is more akin to a politely buzzing house party than a ritualized concert. When members of middle-eastern inspired folk/jazz group DARAMAD mount the stage, they emerge not from a behind-the-scenes hidey hole but from the crowd itself, where they’ve been clinking drinks and sharing chuckles. This says nothing about their music, but it sets the tone for the evening nicely.

DARAMAD, as it happens, is a word that actually means something like “emerge” in Persian classical music terminology; it’s fitting that they’re launching their debut record at Kulcha (the space in which their first freeform jams were born) making for a club sandwich of emerge-y goodness. The ensemble features Mark Cain on woodwind, Michael Zolker on oud and percussion, Reza Mirzaei on saz and guitar; Saeed Danesh on full-time percussion duties, Kate Pass on double bass and (in a new addition to the group), Tara Tiba on vocals. After a little bit of housekeeping, the tunes begin, and a hush falls over the rest of the room.

These are rich, hot textures; the stringy, percussive, almost throaty thrum of the oud and the baglama/saz underpinning warm melodic warblings from Cain’s woodwind – he has quite an inventory, including saxophones, exotic reed instruments and ethereal flutes. Deep down, there is the guttural woody pluck, thud and bellow of the double bass, and the tastefully reticent – yet subtly spectacular – rhythms of the percussion. It amounts to a fairly dense and joyous whole, a whole which sounds pretty authentically Middle-Eastern to the untrained ear (that is to say, my ear), but the traditional textures soon find somewhat atypical applications.

The pieces feature strong, modal melodies, not unusual in the traditional folk context. But instead of simply recapitulating themselves from go to woah, these tunes form “heads” in the jazz sense, melodic centrepieces around which extended improvised and textural sections can orbit. Band members take turns exploring the soloistic capabilities of each instrument, before everything coalesces back into an all-in, rustic momentum.

Every player is great, brimming with not only skill but clear excitement and long-standing passion for Persian music and the tools of the trade (though Chinese and Indonesian instruments find their way into the mix, too). “Isfahan” exemplifies jazz and Middle Eastern music’s shared penchant for syncopation and shifting time signatures; “Caspian Winds” is a highlight with its call-and-response melodies and almost industrial percussion. Then there are the extended, more navel-gazey and nebulous jams (like “Galactica”) that owe debts to Miles Davis and Charles Mingus.

Yet for all the instrumental excellence, it’s hard to imagine the band without a singer after hearing Tara Tiba. The Iranian-born vocalist arrives on stage and tells us, the audience, that though she has been honing her singing for 12 years or more – it is her life’s passion – for her to sing publicly would be condemned in her homeland. Women are simply forbidden to do so. Thus, she tells us, “this is a dream come true.” The room erupts with applause; undoubtedly a few eyes are moistened. And she hasn’t even sung a note. When she does, the applause that follows is just as tremendous: Tiba’s voice is rich, nuanced and delivered with deft sensitivity to the rest of the band’s inflections and dynamics. Though I can’t understand her linguistically, there’s a sense of gravity to every note, a feeling of meaning as you might encounter in a cello concerto or glacial piano melody.

From the languid to the contemplative to the dancey and downright exuberant, Daramad traverse moods and cultural influences with an almost confounding cohesion. What makes them so convincing is how seamlessly they fuse their Persian and Jazz influences, to a point where it feels unlike a “fusion” at all, instead something singular and special. You might like them for the musicianship, for the intriguing conceptual endeavour of exploring the junctions of styles that are worlds apart, for the near-psychedelic soundscapes that emerge or for the remarkable composition that has gone into the project. As the room slowly empties, it might be the case that every head filing out has taken something different from the performance. But Daramad is a focused beast, with a clear vision. It’ll be fun to watch them pursue it, and expand upon what is already a compelling emergence.

MADLIB MEDICINE SHOW @ THE BAKERY, SATURDAY OCTOBER 27

Andrew Ryan

The shortest, dullest little phrases can really make your heart sink, can’t they? You’ve endured a long, hot drive to Anaheim and braved the theme park queues and then upon approaching the Pirate ride your 8-year-old was so achingly, unyieldingly set on: Closed For Maintenance. Or: you thought it was Monday, not Tuesday, so all of a sudden you have two minutes to enrol for XYZ online or have funds irrevocably wrested from your already-crippled bank account – ok, here’s the WiFi – Connection Failed. Or: you’re digging for native yams at Lake Joondalup and you feel a sharp stinging pain that sears up your arm. You see it writhe and slide away – oh man, you know what that is – a dugite. Don’t panic, don’t panic, there’s a Medical Centre down the road with the antivenene. You struggle along the footpath trying to remember the appropriate first aid ‘til you see the door. Out to Lunch. Back in 1/2 hour.

Or another thing that could happen is that you could be perusing The Internet™ as innocently and inadvertently as if it were a coffee table book of Japanese Ornamental Gardens and then woah woah woah woah – Madlib is SOLD OUT. What? This can’t be! The Bakery is enormous and… I mean… oh man.

Immediate pirouette into desperation mode. I contact our CoolPerthNights editor-in-chief. He’s reclining on a deckchair at a sun-kissed northern latitude. I must become the hunter. I take to the streets, sniffing like a truffle-pig for that golden ticket. I search in alleyways and gutters. I peer into rabbit warrens and beehives. It’s no good: I seat myself at an old pub and begin the task of drowning my sorrows.

And then – hark! An acquaintance with a straw hat and a spare. My luck’s done an about-face. The sun sinks and we flash our IDs. Inside a vibe is slowly brewing like drip-filter coffee. Local stalwart Kit Pop is supplying some choice cuts (lots of fellow traveller Taku’s material) but it inevitably treated as sonic wallpaper. Toes aren’t itching yet – on Bakery time, it’s still beer-and-conversation-on-an-astroturfed-pouffe O’Clock.

White dinner-jacketed music-nerd-cum-vibe-wizard EGON refuses to accept that kind of attitude, though. The lovably dorky DJ (who’s also known for being general manager of Stones Throw records and his own Now-Again label) doubles as a hyperactive master of ceremonies, giving us a guided tour of every new musical offering that comes to greet our ears. His enthusiasm is totally contagious, though even if he were frowning at his pointy leather loafers I doubt anyone would be able to resist the calibre of the funkiness on offer. Egon is perhaps best understood as a chirpy musical pilot, flying his captive passangers at supersonic speeds between disparate corners of the globe: we hear The Quests, a 1960s pop band from Singapore; the Ngozi family out of Zambia; The Greek Pop Festival (hi-speed funk wildness – “sounds like no pop music I ever heard!” exclaims Egon); Warhead Construction (a high-school psych rock band from Lagos, Nigeria) and so much more. This stuff is rarer than raw beef. And yet this isn’t obscurity for its obscurity’s sake: all these tracks are total brain-melters, triggering compulsive nods of the heads and vocal ejaculations. “Hip hop is universal at this point,” Egon cheers as he drops the beat of a folkloric Turkish drum circle – “this is hip hop! You ain’t never heard hip hop like this before – but this is Madlib medicine show – of COURSE you’re gonna hear shit like this!”

If Egon gave us a strange and exciting wordly tasting-platter, J-ROCC is all set to serve up nought but party treats like mumma used to make. You know, fairy bread, cocktail weenies, bright orange fizzy drink, a big gooey cake. The DJ, dripping with triple-distilled steez, approaches the stage and is introduced by Egon as “the best DJ in the world.” Is he? Maybe, maybe not, but hyperbole seems fitting. He fires up a selection of samples chopped up and reconfigured so as to pronounce “J-Rocc” in a variety of ways. From here, he segues into a beat via a very obscure sample – ‘Le Petit Chevalier’ by Nico, sung by her young son Ari on the Desertshore album. And yep, there are plenty of other little arcane wonders and interpolations in this set – but primarily, it’s an hour of bangers, and there’s no tune too classic for J-Rocc to happily whip out. Which means we encounter such numbers as Dre/Snoop’s “Nuthin’ but a G Thang,” Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Pharoahe Monch’s ubiquitous, Godzilla-sampling “Simon Says” (that darnt-darnt-darnt-darnt is a sure-fire adrenaline injection, whenever, wherever – cheap points, perhaps, but worthwhile). Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of scratch-based virtuosity and spoken word interludes to keep things interesting, engagingly complex – and if you were ever getting sick of THE HITS, there’s ongoing recourse to little-known, funky instrumental gems. Even the stage presence is sublime, with MJ-inspired dancing, crowd interaction and vocal miming. J Rocc nails it. NAILS it.

Now the man of the hour – I’m talking about Otis Jackson Jr, aka MADLIB – is an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a cloud of suspicious-smelling smoke, and though he’s been a reliable source of amazing beats, mixes and music in general for the last 15-odd years, he’s also pretty unpredictable. He’s maybe my favourite hip-hop producer in the history of hip-hop production, exceeded perhaps only by the late, great J Dilla himself. And yet his copious and incredible output seems to be the result of an over-active, volatile brain, the sort of bubbling brain that’s either gonna produce genius or sheer mess, rather than straight-up solidity (see: J Rocc). With this in mind, I’d figured Madlib’s set would go in one of those two directions. Turns out it goes in both.

Madlib, the Beat Konducta, stokes the fire straight away with one of his finest collaborative efforts: “Accordion” from the Madvillain project with MF Doom. It’s a tune that encapsulates many of the things that make Madlib so great: there’s idiosyncratic quirk (how many producers would try to forge an entire track around a romantic accordion sample, let alone succeed?), there’s a drunken wonkiness amidst a dependable groove, it mixes old and new vibes effortlessly, and as a whole, it’s both memorable and understated. Here, he mixes it up with EQ fluctuations and pauses just enough to differentiate it from the album version. Next, however, the set takes something of a turn for the inaccessible. Madlib errs away from letting any beats play out, instead messing with the crowd’s collective head by constantly switching it up, dragging out minimal rhythmic scratch-blasts, warping sounds into unrecognizable club-next-door mushes, and generally having all sorts of esoteric sound-manipulation fun. It’s interesting, but after the all-in party atmosphere of J Rocc, it feels slightly awkward. Here’s the thing: Madlib never has been, never will be, a simple crowd pleaser. He makes music on his own terms, presumably to satiate his own ears’ desires, desires which are sometime pretty far out. So when he drops his classic beat for Mos Def’s “Auditorium,” it lasts about ten seconds and is squished under another sample before rapidly disappearing. Blink and you’ll miss it! Yep, Otis is in freaky mode. Soon enough, he senses that the room might not be feeling these wig-outs quite as much as him (a muddy FOH mix doesn’t help either), and swings things in the direction of reworked disco and funk numbers from some of his Medicine Show records, providing a bit more momentum for danceability. The set never quite settles into a dynamic, but it’s an intriguing look into the real-time workings of Madlib the man, the wild mind. And of course, J Dilla tributes abound: the three members of the Medicine Show Tour unite onstage for an airing of Dilla’s classic Raymond Scott-sampling “Lightworks.”

Though the feeling of Madlib’s slightly baffling set following J Rocc’s presentation of bangers is a little unusual, tonight ultimately offers us an awesome trifekta of approaches to DJing; the crate-digger, the party-bringer, the smooth mad scientist (yeah, I couldn’t really fit Madlib’s approach into an established DJ archetype). As such, it felt like the Medicine Show Tour was totally justified in its decision to combine these three specific gentlemen; the night would have been lesser had it swapped out any of its particular components. As far as DJ-focused nights go, I can already tell this one will stick in my mind for years. My spirits were on the road to ill health when I thought I wasn’t going to make it. Turns out the Madlib Medicine Show was just what the doctor ordered.

THIS IS NOWHERE @ SOMERVILLE AUDITORIUM, SUNDAY OCTOBER 14

Andrew Ryan

In the far distant future, the dimming sun flickers through its final millenia and the Earth is a wearied husk. We camp, wander, forage, across bleak dusty plains and lifeless scrub. ‘Cities’ and ‘nations’ are the stuff of myth; long-decayed, half-remembered. There is only the endless nothing, the yawning sky, the cold wind, and the strange horned demon-beasts that creep through the mountains like shadows. Nobody asks where we are, or where we are going. Everybody knows this is nowhere.

The cold, the hunger, the sadness drag on… until one Spring day. Today, we see the green. In a valley, trees, like in the fairy tales: noble conifers, growing in a ring. And amongst them, buildings, and tents, unimaginable colours, shapes and smells. I race down the chalky hillside, my eyes ablaze with wonder, tears brimming with shock and awe. In the middle of nowhere – there is something. Something living, something growing.

The sign calls it “Somerville.” A guard awaits at the gate, but he is not a cruel guard. He nods, wiggles his moustache and lets me pass. Inside, the wild beasts with their gnarled horns and glassy eyes scramble around the treetops, but for once they seem to pose no threat. They seem appeased. Maybe even… at home.

A cosmic pulsation resounds. A shimmering spirit announces itself as MAYOR DADI, and sends rich flashes of blue and purple vaulting through the clouds. It moves in a metronomic way, erupting at times with cavernous noise and noodling melodies, but it drives ever forwards, deeper and deeper into its own private vortex. A Jefferson Starship thumps and licks and sways as the beat abides. Mayor Dadi completes its immersion into the wormhole and is gone.

I trip around a corner and find a GRIFFIN in a court. His audience, who sit near him and shake bells, call him ALEX. He is strumming a hollow guitar and singing about “no pretty white girls in lace by the river” and other strange things. He chats with those around him, even when his talon starts to bleed from all the strumming. The last tune he plays is by an old man named Satie. It’s a very different sort of tune.

I encounter a CRAFTsman named DAVID who is clad all in black and sings like an earthquake. His songs are dark but beautiful, and the birds fall silent to listen. Two girls appear with guitars and cables and robot beats and colorful outfits – they share the name PURO INSTINCT and though they seem a little silly their silvery guitar sounds and thick waves of rhythm come on strong like tiny storm clouds.

NEW WAR are an aggressive team of bandits, all desperate singing and broody bass, clanging drums in perfect measure. They don’t seem very friendly, but they are experts at making their noises fit together like rigid squares on a filthy grid. The singer creeps around like a hyena and wears sunglasses. I’m not sure why he wears sunglasses; the sun’s been dim for a long time now.

New War had reminded me of the desolate darkness beyond the green trees, but TENNISCOATS arrived to warm my soul like a hot spring. One woman, one man – the man played guitar and the woman sang and played a tiny piano with an air-tube. I didn’t understand their language, an unfamiliar tongue from the north-eastern seas, but I understood the feeling with which they sang and played, the twirling, lilting melodies that drifted through the air like sweet pollen. They hopped down from their podium and skipped through the crowd, still singing and strumming and humming through the little piano. I felt the skies open up and golden sunshine plash down. TENNISCOATS carried with them a rare magic. I will never forget it.

I came to the mouth of great stone dolphin, and ambled down the dark tunnel of its throat. Its belly was a grand chasm, filled with darkness and smoke and bright laser-lights dancing like comets. Here, fabled disc-spinners like BEN TAAFFE, JO LETTENMAIER and ROK RILEY conjured wondrous thwomps, clicks and textures from their hefty bags of wax. A young man named JAMES IRELAND came along with his glowing apple and grille of buttons, and with these arcane tools wrought a set of sheer beatific beautfy. Neither bright nor dark, but deeply joyous, thick and chameleonic, the sounds percolated through my bloodstream. The enchanted fusions of tone, melody and beat in their purest yet most carefully tweaked forms clutched my heart and shook it til it fizzed. It was good: too good. It was scary in how good it was; so I ran, ran out of the dolphin’s jaws, back to the dim light and the free-flowing air.

THE BANK HOLIDAYS jangled sweetly, with gilded voices interlocking like soft, ghostly fingers; CHRIS COBILIS, in the nearby court, screeched, howled and summoned eruptions of black distorted filth at such a volume as I have never heard. It was not music, it was something like being caught in a thick flock of hissing, sharp-clawed bats. But its brutality was good, a reminder that one’s ears and skin are mere flesh, that one’s senses are simply windows unto a ruthlessly physical world. Then he played a quiet song on the hollow guitar and sang in an absent-minded, floating way. He seems a very peculiar man, the sort of man you could learn many odd things from.

A pair of handsome travelers called HTRK set loose an extended, mellifluous din of artificial drums, half-distant guitar and shadowy vocals, before a gang of HOLY SONS laid out a string of suprisingly rocky songs. Then rumbling with mythic power and winking with the twang of the south, came GRAILS, mounted on a fiery chariot. Strident drums, echoes, slide guitars and doughy keyboard met in a wild seance, taking the brain on a kaleidoscopic flight through desert canyons, glowing nebulae and dense croaking swamps.

I returned to the Dolphin’s belly to fling my limbs about while IKONIKA and SLUGABED relentlessly fired thumps and synthetic stabs into the dark, though I ventured out again to witness the intense and spooky art of XIU XIU. A man named Jamie Stewart gasped and howled and spluttered and screeched, strumming hand-held harps, sling-shotting pebbles at gongs, twisting knobs on noise-boxes, while Angela Seo struck, bowed and tinkled a vast array of percussive objects from enormous drums to smooth, resonant vibraphones. Xiu Xiu’s brief appearance left me feeling drained amidst the self-loathing, the impending doom, the unabating ennui and distress, but it was a deft and spectacular thing to be hold.

Night had fallen and at last a great TORTOISE rose from the Earth. The tortoise was immense, wise, with the experiences of aeons in its shell. Was this the tortoise that the Earth-disc rested upon, come to greet its passengers? It very well could be. I supposed its movements, its sounds, would be slow and heaving, but no, it was fast and nimble, twisting with agility along intricate trajectories. Its song seemed both ancient and very new; it sang with double-drums, digital whirs and hits, throbbing low-end notes, ornate rustlings and pummelings, jazzy guitar envelopings. It was a beast the likes of which I have never seen, its every aspect firmly united, yet capable of dozens of hugely varied tasks. I underestimated the great Tortoise perhaps, yet it expanded my mind, and I owe it thanks. No wonder it supports the world on its shoulders, no wonder at all.

But all great things must end. As the Tortoise receded it took the weird world of Somerville with it, the green trees, the stone dolphin, the nomads and creatures and ales and banquets. Once again – only the quiet, the black night, the ice breeze. Will this curious carnival return, one day, bringing light, noise and bewilderment to Nowhere? I hope so. I really do.

Photo by Laura Mangen Photography

ANTELOPE & ZEKS @ THE BIRD, SUNDAY SEPT 23

Andrew Ryan

The jungle of steel and brick rises high and steadies itself. All around, lights of pearly white and brash colour cling like barnacles to thick, dark pillars with chilly, winking spires. On the ground, where gravity prevails, people are weaving, scurrying, lazing, smoking, eating, laughing, complaining, flirting. A bloated television sends a twitchy glow through an amphitheatre. A jazz band slaps and toots in a grotto. I slip through, hunter’s hat askew, stalking something new.

I’m endlessly fond of this town, its streets, people, bands, eateries, grassy knolls, spritely birds, flowery hillside nooks. Yet for all its merits (not to mention its sprawl) the city remains small: tight-knit, incestuous, sometimes parochial. With few places to play and a non-abundance of heads devoted to any one weird pursuit, the same faces appear in the same places, week to week. This is no real predicament: familiarity becomes a home-town. Still, it does make discovering totally unfamiliar local soundmakers a rarity, compared to larger, denser metropolises where multiple scenes sprout and develop in discrete pockets.

Thus: my excitement upon encountering Perth musical acts for the first time. Acts I’ve not seen or even really heard – not because I’ve been disinterested, but because fate has hitherto opted to keep us apart. And now I ply the savanna, my boots kicking dust into the night’s first moonbeams, my goal in the middle-distance. “Ave!” bellows the feathery head, its beak opening wide, beckoning. I tumble in. Pronged horns float through the dark. I strike a match and follow.

Here is ANTELOPE, five legs moving swiftly and efficiently in tandem, or else, decisive counterpoint. Its overall gait mechanical and crisp, almost robotic, with every step carefully measured and placed; the precision, meanwhile, is dressed in a faint haze, a never overwhelming glow (the sort that flanks a candle’s flame, or spills through a cinema). As I near the beast, the cogs and pistons each take corporeal form: surprisingly, young men, clutching guitars, drum sticks, a sampler-box. No-one sings, but occasionally there is an uncharacteristically brusque burst of speech: “We’re Antelope, how the fuck are ya?”

Like most post-rock and math-rock bands, Antelope aren’t really a post-rock or math-rock band. They’re shooting for neither the atmospheric, quasi-orchestral style of the most assuredly “post” outfits, nor the neuron-slapping complexity and rhythmic volatility of those who warrant the “math” prefix. There are moments that err towards each, certainly; generally, though, this is an instrumental rock band that’s rooted in agile, taut and terse drumming, upon which “angular” guitar and bass formations are layered. Melodically, some tunes fall victim to a certain blandness, but towards the end of the set the whole game is lifted: focused riffs, muscular jigsaw rhythms, fierce dynamics. ANTELOPE are already great, and with time they will be awe-inspiring.

Further down the bird-gullet is a whirl of horse’s hair, venom and smoke. Distorted steel-string spikes clip along over tight, stark, protean beats. A violin bow chugs zealously. Lyrics are alternately barked, howled and coldly intoned. The aggregate grooves are heavy, but buoyant, and expertly delivered. This is ZEKS.

Zeks are clearly a punk band, in the true sense of the word. Sound-aesthetic aside, (it’s seething, but more “art rock” than “three-chord snot”) they make no secrets of their distaste for on-stage propriety, or of their political inclinations. Amid sticker slogans bluntly decrying capitalism and tattoos bemoaning cops come (generally) more nuanced lyrics; ones that vehemently recount and rail against injustices and corruptions. The themes (whether you subscribe to Zeks’ political angles or not) lend a sense of gravitas and urgency to the already arresting arrangements, which are brilliantly underpinned and driven by the immense drum-work of Katie Malajczuk. The admixture of intricate rhythm changes, heavy guitars and bleak vocals recalls early My Disco, or The Nation Blue; with the addition of violin, Baseball comes to mind. Ultimately, though, Zeks have forged quite a special little sonic niche for themselves – one that’s rich enough to keep quality songs flowing for a while yet, I’d venture. The flurry ends with a disco-punk throb, invoking hip and knee spasms throughout the room: appreciation relayed physically.

Back in dark damp world, the lingering echoes die away, traded for the squeak and sigh of train hydraulics. If tonight has a lesson, it’s to leave no stone unturned – so often, it seems, does a gem lay in wait underneath.

JOE McKEE FAREWELL TO PERTH SHOW @ ELLINGTON JAZZ CLUB, MONDAY SEPTEMBER 10

Andrew Ryan

Through night buses, liquor stores and veggie patches, I snake towards the jazz club, the dark crisp edifice hemmed in by leaves and golden arches. The front door guides me into an unlit recess, black but for a square aperture to my right with a woman’s face in it. She looks up from her books and admits through the next door, where wooden tables loiter, little fire-tongues tasting the saxophone-laden air. The man in the waistcoat pours me a pint that seems bigger than a pint, and another man in another waistcoat proffers a plate of warm bread, gently steaming and edged with trimmings. Duke Ellington winks down at me from the adjacent wall.

A piano, a guitar, a microphone are reclining on a riser, basking in a tepid incandescence. They’re nonchalant; still quietly they hum with promise. After an uncertain, flaneuristic duration, RACHEL DEASE slides up like a specter and seats herself with an omnichord – a sort of lo-fi electronic autoharp – on her lap. She’s just returned from New York, a town lucky enough to bear witness to her ‘City of Shadows’ show; a song-cycle with string quartet based on 1940s crime scene photos from Sydney and Perth. Tonight peels away the embellishments and leaves Dease with only her analog gadget for company. It’s good company though. The omnichord leaks surprisingly rich 8-bit chords and exhales dusty drum machine patterns, and when its touch-plate is “strummed” it releases gilded, unfurling clouds of celestial pseudo-harp. Such is the minimal but compelling palette that backdrops Dease’s somber tunes: murder ballads, existential night terrors, surreal travelogues, wine-stained lovesick strains, including the Dease-penned theme to recent State Theatre show “It’s Cold Outside.” Fans of Beach House will appreciate the cocktail of steadfast drum machine, organ-seep and distant, almost pained, “masculine” vocals, though the tone here is far more Gothic and enigmatic. Amid the finely tuned originals come some well-placed covers: Band of Horses’ “The Funeral” (a version that exceeds the original, I’d venture, though props to horse-dudes for writing the thing) and a ‘mash-up’ rendering of 10CC’s “I’m Not In Love” and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Runaway.” For one person to command a room’s attention and imagination for the best part of an hour with a lone instrument and a voice is always impressive; what’s more, I find myself supposing I could listen to a recording of this set over and over. Luckily, Dease has a solo record in the works. I will be lining up eagerly when it arrives.

Rachael dissolves in a haze of smoke and loop-layered harmony, leaving the svelte and irreverent JOE MCKEE in her stead. There is no separating Joe’s personality from his musicality. He is a charmer – you can see it in the way he greets his friends, the way he orders a beer – and a mystery (which you can’t see, that’s why it’s a mystery). The man is composed and self-assured, but with a penchant for music’s capacity to unstitch wounds and expose maundering psychological chaos. My mind clicks and rewinds to 2006 – I was in high school – I bought Snowman’s debut, self-titled album from 78s. On the same day I watched the band play. I went on to listen to the record on an almost daily basis. It opened with a track called “The Black Tide” which, even then, felt more “Joe” than “Snowman” – languid strings billowed spookily over muddy guitar notes and distant horror movie dissonances, but the defining feature was Joe’s rich, haunting baritone, smoking itself through a 50s-crooner type melody. This aesthetic, albeit tempered by time, experience and refinement, his carried through to his solo album ‘Burning Boy’ – dense with unnerving beauty and blurry, filmic arrangements. Gently jazzy chords – major 7s and 6s, the odd 13, meet 60s folk fingerpicking patterns to evoke sepia water-lilies, but steely echo and stormy layered reverberations suggest they’re viewed in some kind of sinister slide projector scenario. Tonight Joe conjures all this with just Gretsch and looper, which is an impressive feat given the lush, orchestral quality of the textures on the album – it’s not a matter of simply looping riffs and harmony notes, but creating silvery strands of sound that seamlessly intermingle. All the while, Joe’s deep, breathy voice intones cryptic poetry that nevertheless recalls familiar, identifiable scenes (“Darling Hills […] I dream of your burning skin / from a foreign place”). His stage presence – which involves plenty of *off*stage presence and personal-space invasion, is by his own admission a little “surly” – but it creates a visual dynamic, a use of physical space, often lacking in solo performances. It pays off particularly when Joe finds his way to the Ellington’s piano in his final song and almost haphazardly tinkles out a beautiful counterpoint to a precarious, looping guitar motif; he then experiments with beating some nearby drum skins before returning to cut off the soundscape and say fare-thee-well. Farewell for the night, and for the next while – from here, he sets off again around the world, touring Europe and the USA. Joe McKee is an understated songwriter, who has never shown an interest in forging pop hits or immediate hooks. Tonight’s set, as well as his album, feel very much like a rich and nuanced “slow burn” – one that is sure to endure for years, slowly opening up, one treasure at a time.

We unglue our eyes and ears and bodies, spill out onto the footpath, and disperse. Tonight has been all about subtlety, quietude and space, but its continuous statement has been loud and profound: Rachael Dease and Joe McKee are two Perth performers who we can quite comfortably say are world class, be it with an ensemble or alone – and as they travel the world with their songs in tow, so the world begins to agree.

"ELVIS IN MY PELVIS" @ MOJOS BAR, SATURDAY SEPT 1

Andrew Ryan

Once upon a time, Elvis Aaron Presley ruled the world. Before The Beatles, it was Elvis, and before Elvis… that sort of pop pandemonium just didn’t exist. Television arrived just in time to broadcast this guy’s hips to the world: magical beacons of gyrating, erotic luminosity in glorious black and white. His voice was a treacle cascade influenced by gospel, blues, R&B (and far less hammy than decades of impersonators have led us to recall). And, unusually, here was a singer, front and centre, who was thrashing a guitar – iconifying the whole reckless rock ‘n’ roll THING. 2012 is a funny time, when those kinds of revolutions feel too recent to be ancient history, too distant to be palpably with us. And while some innovators (Brian Eno, Miles Davis, etceteraaaah) have totally maintained or even boosted their street cred as the years have worn on, Elvis has been increasingly perceived as a caricature of himself: a rear-view mirror dangler, a sequined costume option, a warbling husk with a towering mound of wax-black quiff. True, Elvis did himself no favours in this department; his countless films set him up as less musician, more all-round take-home commodity; his 70s jumpsuit might has well have been a sign dangling awkwardly from his neck reading “Hey guys! I’m now irrelevant!” (He needn’t have been). In any case, we tend to remember Elvis as a figure/figurine, a symbol of a zeitgeist, a little set of images. The really cool thing about tonight then, I guess, as I roll up on Mojos doorstep, is that there’s a gig happening that’s neither hallowed tribute nor silly spoof, but a mere nod to a man and his songs. This evening, bands and soloists are playing at the friendly Fremantle venue performing original sets spattered with Elvis covers.

“The King” is of course not only a symbol of red-blooded rock but also of his homeland, and fittingly, the night commences with a performer from the US of A. JEAN MARIE is from San Francisco, though there’s nothing parochial about her sound – it’s a pretty universal kind of subdued guitar-and-vocal affair, recalling at times, interestingly, Scottish songman Donovan Leitch. There are some beautiful hushed/soaring vocal moments, exposed and earnest, interspersed with some shakier ones – overall it’s a beguiling kind of unpretentious bedroom folk. There’s not much to vary it texturally, until a set of floor-bound, tuned bells played with the feet enter the equation (cool)! Marie dons a pair of ludicrous sunglasses and renders Presley’s “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” in her decidedly pared back style. Which, essentially, reveals the bare bones of the song in all their glimmering loveliness – it’s not a remarkable song in any technical sense, but the intensity of the sentiment, the bittersweet chord progression, remain totally potent.

I’ve waxed lyrical about the DIANAS in recent times, yet no amount of my describing them to you will ever really do them justice. The premise is pretty simple: 3-piece surf punk/garage pop, nodding vigorously and consistently at the 60s, with vocal harmonies all around. But in the wrong hands, that formula could be totally underwhelming. Meanwhile, the collective hand of these three has got some bona fide Midas shit going on. The songs are magnificently crafted; the playing is deft, though pleasantly rough around the edges. The harmonies are stellar, too, which is something sticks to your brain like glitter glue long after the set has ceased. And all of the above are lovingly translated into their Elvis cover (Devil in Disguise). Though bearing little stylistic resemblance to the original, Dianas do manage to conjure up the essence of the man – raucous flair and ice-cool abandon, with attention to detail and lashings of musical proficiency.

And as far as musical proficiency is concerned, few Perth bands have it in such spades as JAMES TEAGUE and his superbly rehearsed/dressed ensemble; even fewer balance it so well with tasteful arranging and adventurous tonal aesthetics. Also, James’ hair is incredible tonight. A nice wink at King-dom without getting naff. Very dainty. Good job lad. The band is utterly slick and slips almost inevitably through their abundance of quality songs, including the recently video-clipped “Strange Birds” and “Valley of Restraint” (in which Jake Chaloner manages to make his guitar sound like a whip cracking, somehow, speaking of lashings of musical proficiency. BOOM!)
They reinvent Elvis’ tunes with a keen ear: “Suspicious Minds” here falls effortlessly into the country-shuffle genre, while “All Shook Up” gets a similar treatment; “Love Me Tender” is reproduced as vintage solo-teague. Not wanting to neglect the true sound of Mr. Presley, however, Teague’s band spring a traditionally upbeat rockabilly version of “All Shook Up” on him at the set’s conclusion, which makes excellent jiving material and satiates the more purist punters in the room.

Purism is fun, but not exactly what the night’s all about. These songs, self-evident in their high level of quality, endure but don’t need to be accompanied by any kinds of sublime, pop-royalty auras. Elvis was plenty of things, some great, some downright gross, but too often do we ignore his downright excellent tunes and ultimately humble additions to the shape of modern music, in exchange for parody-type recollections of Elvis the Personality.™ This evening’s free from grandiose vibes, dense with gentle admiration and fun. Elvis may no longer rule the world of pop music, but plenty of the philosophies he made music by have visible and invisible legacies that follow us around, in entirely cool ways. Pelvic movements optional.

DROWNING HORSE ALBUM LAUNCH @ THE BAKERY, FRIDAY AUGUST 24

Andrew Ryan

They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. The relationship between musician and listener is not so different. Crucial as it may be, no amount of promotion or airplay or hype can actually impel a listener to engage with a band’s music: this act, of devoting one’s senses and attention, of attempting to connect, must be a voluntary – and therein lies its magic. When Perth kvlt-doom luminaries DROWNING HORSE chose their band name, they picked a pair of words that would brilliantly evoke the dark, suffocating, muscular and mythic nature of their music. In light of the aforementioned idiom, however, the moniker is also a pretty accurate description of their fan base’s attitude: you can’t make a horse drink, but fans of this band need no encouragement. In fact, DROWNING HORSE faithfuls are so eager to chug it down that they end up submerged and entombed (in the best, healthiest possible way).

If you needed proof, observe this surreal moment: tonight, as Drowning Horse are about to play, the entire crowd milling in the Bakery’s rear courtyard falls dead silent and flocks – calmly, purposefully – inside. If anyone’s here to drink or socialize or find a partner with whom to copulate, it’s a not their top priority. Really, everyone’s here for this band – a phenomenon which is unheard of at a Friday night gig in a popular public venue. The throng moves as one and prepares to drown in sound.

Sever hours earlier, I arrive under the adder-black sky and float through the still-sparse crowd. The ever-beguiling sounds of CRAIG McELHINNEY are tenderizing minds early on. Craig’s DJing, eschewing decks for a 404 sampler setup, and although that means he’s proffering other people’s tunes, there’s something undeniably Craig-ish about it. A mythic haze, a shimmering aura of Turkish coffee steam and wispy space dust and dankness from the deep woodland undergrowth. Be it the freak-dub of Sun Araw or the Canterbury psych of flare-wearers Caravan, no-one is immune to the McElhinney treatment; the subtle effects, the seamless blends, and the alien comfort vibes that are sometimes even greater than the sum of their parts.

GRIEF CONTEST now rise to the occasion. I was under the impression they must’ve been a Melbourne or Sydney band – (a) because the name is unfamiliar (shows you what I know!) and (b) on account of Life is Noise’s penchant for bringing loud and grim acts over from that side of the country to this one. But, it seems, they are a pair of Perth guys of who appear only rarely in public.

My first thought is how versatile and dynamic this guitar-and-drums duo is – alternating between skull-bruising sludge/doom and pared back instrumentalism that, if pigeon-holed, would probably most resemble the “post-rock” pigeon. There’s an ambition and a scope to the sound that is quite immense, and the execution is admirable – when it falls short, it’s in terms of sheer density and low-end heft. One guitar can make a hell of a racket – especially when amplified to 11 and shot through plenty of pitch-shifting and distortion effects – but nine times out of ten it still sounds like one guitar. There’s a sense that an extra layer (I’m hesistant to use the “b” word, but…yknow) might complete the ominous panorama. Apparently Grief Contest do have a third member, but he’s off in Sydney while his girlfriend photographs ominous panoramas for National Geographic. Perhaps we’ll hear them in three-way configuration one day soon.

After another round of McElhigrooves it’s over to Nick Sweepah – who goes by the entirely fiendish moniker “OUROBONIC PLAGUE” and thereby makes a fitting contribution to tonight’s bill of dopely macabre project names. Sweepah’s sounds are informed by his background in hip-hop, but refracted through about a million weird lenses; what we get are séance drones, post-dubstep gurgles, glitch nasties and straight-up noise violations. Tonight, somewhat unusually, he introduces his rap chops (kinda) – pitch-shifting his voice down to a Darth Vader wheeze and intoning unsettling rhymes over his claustrophobic, festering dungeon beats. Ourobonic Plague is a fantastic foil to Drowning Horse – seemingly taking a similar departure point (the desire to make somewhat distressing, dark-as-hell, drone-centric music) but opting for a completely different fork in the road (electronic production and the gamut of influences that go along with it). This is one of his best sets to date.

By now, the Bakery is bulging with black-clad bodies. And at last, that strange moments comes. The hush, and the swift relocation into the drone-room. DISCLAIMER: Right now, for the next paragraph’s worth of time, I’m going to avoid the words “brutal,” “loud,” “dark” and “heavy,” because they tell you nothing you don’t already know about Drowning Horse, but if there was any doubt, rest assured that tonight they are all of these things in hyperbolic abundance. What’s interesting, though, is not that they manage to pop eyeballs with their ever-substantial quantities of brute force. It’s the way in which they elicit goosebumps with an unprecedented artistry.

Tonight, Drowning Horse have stepped up the theatrics: smoke machines, rope lights, a projector flinging black-and-white landscape time lapses onto a big white screen flanked by mammoth amp stacks – and yet, here on this elaborately adorned stage, they still seem as unpretentious and down-to-earth as they might playing to a small crowd at 208s. It’s a testament to the band’s palpable personality and no-nonsense attitude. “Nonsense” should never be confused with quality embellishment, which is what they’ve gone for here.

The set begins not with a crushing drone but instead with several minutes of blistering fastness: black-metal inspired riffing, frantic beats and blood-curdling shrieks. It’s arresting, and it sends a clear message: Drowning Horse are no one-trick pony (oh god, that pun really wasn’t intended. I promise! Sorry. Moving on). This outburst is followed by a somewhat ambient interlude and sampled spoken word, before – about a third of the way into the set – more familiar DH sounds set in. And it’s better than ever. Every guitar strum is a glacier of scalding-hot mud; every drum hit is a meteor. Nothing happens without tremendous weight and impact. The vocals, thick and abrasive, are on point. If Drowning Horse’s music is simple in concept and minimal in musical terms, it’s by no means lacking in finesse. No-one “plays” low-end feedback like these guys. No-one appreciates the fierce potential of light-and-shade like these guys. Their performance tonight makes Boris’ a few months ago look like a school rock eisteddfod. Which says more about Drowning Horse’s ascension than it does about Boris’ decline.

I move away from the stage, drained and altogether uplifted. It’s clear as day why Drowning Horse fans are so avid. Who needs to be told to drink when the water is this intoxicating, and this nourishing? Not me, and certainly not the glowing throng of fanatics – new and old – who file out of the Bakery, leaving in their wake one of the year’s finest performances.

TURA PRESENTS CLUB ZHO 102 - YOUNG COMPOSERS NIGHT @ THE BAKERY

Andrew Ryan

“I have to finish by twelve, maybe one tonight,” Wassim the taxi driver tells me. That’s cool. I’ll be home by about eleven in any case. “I must only do short shifts, because I am fasting. Not much energy.” I agree with Wassim about the importance of rest. He asks me what I do for a living. Interesting question. I tell him I’m a musician, but that’s not much of a “living.”

“A musician!” he exclaims, veering onto Thomas Street. “I like some very different music…” he flicks off the dull murmurings of AM talkback and fires up a CD. “You might not like this, but…”

Simmering sitars and frantic tabla begin to flow from the cab speakers, but instead of the usual drone associated with sitar music, the piece follows a pop-song style chord progression. Impassioned vocals join the party.

“The music is not quite classical, not quite rock. The word are ghazal poetry… very beautiful. The singer is a very young man. Young musicians… I am always amazed by all these young musicians.”

His comment is as timely as could be. Barely two hours prior, I’d loped along damp streets to the Bakery, arriving just in time to hear a host of young composers perform their latest works at Tura New Music’s CLUB ZHO 102.

First on stage is a young man named KYLE WILSON. This, as it turns out, is the mysterious “K Wilson” I wrote about in a recent article, “K Wilson” whose true identity had totally baffled me. Here he is, with close-cropped curls, semi-acoustic electric guitar, tabletop of electronic hardware. Does it disappoint me to see the strangely elemental and timeless sounds of K Wilson now iconified by a young, unassuming-looking man? A little, but barely: the sounds soon to emerge maintain their sublime quality, carrying the ears above and beyond mundane-level corporeality. Wilson builds a fire, beginning with soft major-triad kindling, harmonic twigs weaving and overlapping, before adding friction with confident tremolo statements. Combustion arrives in the form of a bright chordal mass and an undulating noise-crust, all the while having the distinctive sonic quality of cassette tape (somehow). The guitar assemblage eventually falls away, leaving behind a pair of humming synthetic tones, soon to be embellished one last time before silence prevails. Gorgeous.

CHRIS HONEY ascends the stage promptly, seating himself behind a midi-controlling keyboard and laptop. There’s a strange tussle between seeing and hearing when Honey hits the keys and produces, from the plastic-y looking thing, an impeccable grand piano sound, transcending any piano-emulating keyboard sound I’ve come across to date – this must be some kind of impeccable digital mellotron. Honey moves through a few simple chords before they begin to drip and ooze, tripping over each other and blending into discoloured clouds. The purity of sound makes way for an even more striking beauty – one of chance, layered resonances and compelling interplay. The piece, entitled P2, offers nothing unusual as far as experimental electronica/sound art/new music/ambient whatever goes – in some ways it casually ticks off all the tropes – but it’s well conceived and flawlessly executed.

Honey melts into the silhouette of Dave Mustaine – which turns out to actually be someone named Chris Kotchie, but it’s an easy confusion. Outlandish angular shred-axe and all. Kotchie is providing the live instrumental component of SAM GILLIES’ new work – Sam is on laptop, as is Jack Moriarty. Low-end guitar rumbles splutter and pop before being put through the electronic wringer; the program notes suggest a reference to shoegaze, but to my ears this seems to draw more upon the likes of Sunn0))), if only remixed by Aphex Twin. There are some truly thrilling moments amidst the piece, but it jumps between ideas and intensities too readily to sustain itself over its full length. It’s not that there aren’t dynamic peaks and valleys – rather that they come too often, too casually for the work to develop an overarching sense of emotional purpose. It feels like a noise-driven jam, which is fine. A more concise iteration, meanwhile, might elevate it to something more affecting.

Laura Jane Lowther (of Kucka fame) is hosting the night, and she now announces a short intermission. We rise, refille glasses, chat and reshuffle a little before the final two composer-performers are introduced.

JAKE STEELE’s work is next and by far the cheekiest of the evening. The fiendishly coiffed Steele (of Injured Ninja / Yarhkob) strolls on stage with a beer, hits play on his laptop (mounted atop a glowing cubic plinth), and as a thumping beat fires up, strolls off again. This is no faux-pas; his piece is billed an ‘installation,’ not a live instrumental performance, but there’s still something wonderfully irreverent about placing a laptop, alone, in a spotlight center stage. The piece supposedly focuses on ‘minimalism, electronic dance music and torture,’ which essentially means that we’re hearing a pretty minimal techno-house beat, looped with only slight variations, for an extended period of time. Recontextualized to Club Zho’s formal sit down setting, the doof-doof that could otherwise signify reckless abandon instead becomes an insistent and inescapable frequency in a piece of foregrounded sound-art, demonstrating how the ‘elevation’ of an art-form can render it ‘torturous.’ Mind you, it’s still not so much torturous as it nods at torture. It remains pretty damn fun to listen to. Steele pops back on stage for a second and closes his laptop.

Finally, it’s HENRY ANDERSEN, formerly (or perhaps still?) singer/guitarist/electronics man from local band String Birds and meanwhile music writer, with his piece ‘Colourfield II.’ It’s an impressively stripped-back affair, with a concept that leaves plenty of sonic space – two percussionists and sporadic Max/MSP manipulation. Timpani, floor toms and crotales are struck, gently patted and sometimes even bowed to spell out a dynamic taxonomy of possible sounds – from the tribal and pounding to the ethereal and barely audible. All the while, Andersen stands guard at his laptop, ready to capture the sounds and rework them in real time, introducing distorted reiterations of rim-rolls, seething loops of brass resonances and corroded, boiled-down replays of cacophonies.

Anderson abruptly swings his laptop shut, bringing the night’s aural excitement to a close. I shut swing the taxi door and bid Wassim good evening, though I was enjoying his Ghazal CD plenty and could have gladly rode around to it a little longer. Man, all these young musicians. Amazing.

MYSTERY BANDS THEATRE @ PAPER MOUNTAIN, SUNDAY JULY 15

Andrew Ryan

Like any good mystery, it begins as the moon rises over an unassuming winters’ night. My footsteps echo through the deserted village, whose signs of life glow instead from sequestered shop interiors as raindrops fall crudely and slowly like glass beads. Soon enough I see the steps sloping into the summit. They are thick with shadow, creeping up into the rock, into an unseen enclave beyond the Steppes. A sign by the entrance reads ‘MYSTERY BANDS THEATRE.’ I gaze back up at the slope; it flickers with strange shapes, before illuminated cursive flashes across the wall: ‘FOR MADMEN ONLY.’ I straighten my deerstalker and clamber up the terraced mountainside.

From the top I can see the whole town, lights winking, clouds eddying overhead. Around me are countless curiosities: paintings and drawings of mythical beings, skulls, lizards, lavish fabrics draped generously over wooden structures, televisions gutted and sprouting gardens, gardens swimming with tiny civilizations. At the far end of the rocky arcade, where the rows of mysterious assemblages come to and end, three enigmas are brandishing instruments. Two echoing guitar notes oscillate through the thin mountaintop air, soon joined by the growing thump of drums and spiritual flute. This is ALASKA NEBRASKA (A SHANIA TWANG ODYSSEY) HELPING SALMA HAYAK WITH HER KAYAK PART 1. The trio weave effect-laden steel strings, percussive stampedes and hazy canopy textures into sonic pretty things and trigger a true hootenanny as the night begins to grow warm.

I spy a pair of puzzling specters floating across the plateau, legendary Japanese spirits with flowing firey hair, skirts like billowing lotus flowers, eyeglasses adorned with shimmering dollar signs. Shania and Salma’s adventures have made me thirsty, however, and I’ve forsaken my supplies, so I venture back down the mountain to fetch some. Along the way I meet a Rhino in a cap, and together we wander to Mexico. Sat astride a candlelit log, he eats quesadillas while I sip coffee-tequila. I feel I’ve only been gone from the mountain for a minute or ten – but alas, all of a sudden, there appears from the gloom an Alaskan Nebraskan, long hair billowing in the breeze, and she tells me a mystery has been and gone: the two specters I had seen had been WA$ABI PEA$, a brief but explosive anime beats extravaganza (and certainly not half a female dog from Croatia). With a heavy heart for having accidentally forgone such a spicy wonder, I bid farewell to the rhino and return to the mountaintop.

When I arrive, the mountain has erupted. Bodies dance fiercely around the molten burping lava, in which one can just make out two figures. If legend is true, they must be ninjas – for only the most advances ninjas have the arcane training to withstand such heat, and even then, they frequently become wounded. The pair slowly rise out of the magma, howling with rage, rhythmically beating their surroundings with ferocious energy. One of them, with a steeley look about him, slams subterranean metals against one another, and it resounds across the pinnacles. A rosie-cheeked mystery lady from Croatia enters the fray, pummeling more rhythms in tempo, and another joins in with a chain and a tribal hand-drum. Even I cannot resist the strange catastrophic allure, and I begin to clap objects against one another with intense fervour. It is a true CLUSTERFUCK for the ears.

From a nearby crystalline pool rises a huge, newt-like amphibian with a hawaiian shirt. It blows avidly into a trumpet, adding a brassy squeal to proceedings. Once the intensity boils down, It invites everyone back to its pool to cool off and partake in hanging ten with some fellow SILLY BOARDERZ. A troupe of mystically uncool mariners with snorkels, flippers, boogie boards and spaceship apparatus slip and slide along the water’s edge, winding along a gurgling sine-wave river to LED coastlines where the tide smacks the shore at a frenetic, unrelenting pace. All the while, the mountain is aflurry with bodies sweating and twisting and wriggling through the trees. Yin-yangs and Dunsborough surf shop flashbacks blaze across my membrane. I’m sinking, deeper, deeper into the future-fun rainbow current. I’m about to drown in mystery. I can’t breathe, I can’t swim, there’s nothing to hold onto, everything grows darker, darker, darker and then –

- Warm air rushes into my strained lungs. I’m in a deep sea cavity, and underground cave, but oxygen streams in through a matrix of tunnels leading to the mountain surface. All the amphibians hang around, for they like air as much as water. But everyone else joins in too – including a hip-hop cray-crayfish who begins spitting beat box bubbles into a conch shell. A salamander warbles an earth-shaking bassline. A rabbit dances on a nearby archipelago. We all hammer whatever is closest, and the jamoree shakes the tectonic plate to its foundations. Poets, painters, crooners, freaks and beasts, all stomping, wailing, bellowing, pummeling, mingling all the qualia into a hot billowing haze that will eventually dissolve like a dream into a tangible landscape of chandeliers, carpet and tired smiles. The riddles here run deep as the ocean. Who were the Alaskan Nebraskans, the Wa$abi Pea$, the Cluster-fuck, the Silly Boarderz? What name can we even give to the final tumult? And even if we knew – could we begin to untangle the smoldering strings of sound that arose from who-knows-where? These are the vibrations of the Bermuda Triangle, the darkest ripples of Loch Ness, the breeze that kisses Stonehenge. I take off my deerstalker and scratch my head, tumbling back into the damp darkness of the flatland. Some things are best left a mystery.

DAVE 'TUMBLEWEED' SINGLE LAUNCH @ THE ROSEMOUNT, WEDNESAY JULY 4

Andrew Ryan

Brrring brrring.

“Hey man, how’s it going?”

“Andy, I’m reviewing your gig, what’s the name of that song…”

“I’m actually slicing cheese right now, can I call you back?”

Seven O’Clock. Ivor was a benevolent bus driver – or maybe he just had a few screws loose in his head. Whatever the reason, when I asked him how much it would cost me to get from I here to the North Perth Plaza, he just hummed, chuckled and mumbled for a few moments before telling me to pay whatever I wanted. Pay-what-you-want public transport. Radiohead’s influence knows no bound. A ticket curled out of the machine and I tore it free.

The seat was patterned, as usual, with those fluorescent zigzags and intersecting coloured shapes, some kind of Amiga Deluxe Paint™ acid flashback made not only manifest, but cushioned. When the wheels stopped spinning on Fitzgerald St, right near pizza joints and the Italian Casa del Disco, I soon saw a collared shirt that had a similar look about it. It was wrapped around the torso of James Sprivilus, the lead singer of the band DAVE. Upon realizing I’d forgotten my ID and wasn’t going to get past the Rosemount’s minotaur-like bouncers without a fight, I cornered Sprivilus and explained the situation. He kindly fetched a spare guitar case from his van – a particularly large one – I climbed inside (it stunk of beer and silica gel), and he surreptitiously ferried me through the Jack Daniels double doors.

Now, by the time I find a way out, BLUE LUCY are performing. They’re a trio, and they seem like good pals: their natural habitat, one suspects, is less the stage and more a bedroom or garden with iced tea and instruments, wholesome afternoon jams and sporadic skylarking. Which is not to say they can’t command the atmosphere in a pub room (though it might be to say that the Rosie’s disco ball and laser show proves to be overkill). Blue Lucy’s music is more like a thick Guernsey sweater than a Snuggie: yes, it’s cosy, but it doesn’t belabour the fact, and you don’t feel (or look) like a twat when you’ve got it on. They veer from rich Appalachian croon-a-longs to glimmer-eyed murder ballads, twee pop jaunts to rock-steeped storytelling that resounds with that Australian dryness. It’s pleasingly eclectic, and if there’s anything lacking it’s not in the songwriting or skill – occasionally, perhaps, in the arrangements, which are short on low end (cello, while beautiful, can only be so beefy) and percussion (same goes for handclaps and tambo). They’re joined by DAVE’s Max on drums on one track, and there is a sense that such an addition fills a genuine void. But hey, that’s not stopping anyone from honing and in vibing along.

Now in the same way that HEALTH take a gentle, agreeable word, capitalize it ominously and then spit its lavender-scented connotations in your face before slamming your eardrums, FOAM are everything their name is not. Hard, loud, dense, rough, loud, geometric, loud, dark, hefty, loud. FOAM are visceral, there’s no doubt, especially when blaring through the Rosemount’s notoriously skull-shredding PA. Their fastish grunge-punk hits you like an avalanche of bowling balls before turning around to stomp on your nose one more time. It’s clear that these dudes worship the air formerly breathed by Kurt, Krist and Dave, which is fine by me actually. Exactly the world they want to conjure, or the ideas they want to transmit: these things are less clear tonight, so greatly does sheer loudness overpower lyrical content or songwriting nuance. For that divulgence, we may need to wait for their EP, due out pretty soon.

Fast forward an hour or two and SUGARPUSS are supporting at the tail end of the night. It feels kind of full circle for me, since the first time I saw Sugarpuss was at the Rosemount, a few years back. It was an afternoon, the Room was teeming with chatter and beer fumes. I didn’t think much of Sugarpuss at the time – warning signals, look out, another power-trio born in the wake of Wolfmother, aping 60s/70s psych and peacock-strutting about the stage. But in the gigs that followed, Sugarpuss won me over, trading the more straight-up pastiche for genuinely rich songs, and by mid-2010 I was scared to share a bill with them because they were so tight and electric and animalistic on stage that. Fast forward a year or two and here they are again, once more a different beast, now a quartet featuring synthesizer, a band with a broader palette than ever. They flirt with chamber pop, dark moody art-rock and fried motown. Gone, largely, are the boyish rock star antics, instead a sense of genuine passion in those moments where it counts. While Jake’s voice still brings to mind Ozzy Osbourne and Robert Plant, his melodies traverse snakecharmer scales and folky high-register pirouettes. Meanwhile, Ben, Brian and Sam collude to produce the sort of tasteful wall of sound that would make Phil Spector’s hair stand on end – oh wait…

And, an hour prior, there’s a swelling in the crowd as James Sprivilus’ shirt takes centre stage. DAVE – who might have the most delightfully awful / ungoogleable band name in Perth since PERTH – always manage to bring a hefty number of friends along to their shows, but it’s not simply the rent-a-crowd phenomenon: these attendees are buddies who would have might have rocked up to the first few sets out of friendly obligation, but who are now firmly enamoured with the band’s tunes, and have attracted other buddies to see what the fuss is about. Which says it all, almost. This is a friendly band. Charismatic and eccentric, somehow dissolving the gap that can plump itself (atmospherically, conceptually, whatever) between ‘audience’ and ‘performers.’ They are friendly on the ears, too, without being beige – if they were beige I would tell you, because beige music is a cardinal sin. Nay, they just forge the sort of thoroughly satisfying and stimulating pop songs that remind you why words like “hook,” “verse,” “double chorus” and “bridge” are not necessarily evil. The sound is sure to please fans of The Smiths, The Cure, Josef K, Orange Juice (etcetera), but the appeal isn’t limited to 80s-Brit-Indie tragics – anyone who can appreciate a jaunty beat underscoring a crafty chord progression and witty lyric is bound to get something out of this repertoire. What’s more, the live incarnation delivers the tunes with a punk energy, roaring tempos and blurry wrists, which sparks up (and likewise feeds off) miniature circle-pits front and centre. Sweat beads form on countless foreheads as Dave pummel through grin-inducing tunes like fan favourite ‘RD’ and the silky, surfy ‘Surfacing,’ which sounds like what would happen if The Drums were less inane, and rivals James Teague’s ‘Naked Eyes, Deluded Minds’ for best local song of recent times in 5/4. ‘Tumbleweed,’ the A-side being released in an impressive gatefold sleeve tonight, trundles along with a lilting plod. It’s a song about awkward silences, tongue-tied exchanges, and ironically it’s a super-eloquent translation of that feeling. ‘Red Eye,’ the b-side, is even better: a sonically addicting tale of misguided teen infatuation with a dubious Thai lover (“Am I just a customer / or am I something more?”) It’s an earworm for the ages, and the delicately chorused-out guitar invokes Johnny Marr in his prime (yes, his prime!) These are underdog songs; songs for the socially challenged, the weirdos, and the plain unlucky folk, but delivered with life-affirming vigour. The gig, at last, finds it way back to a share-house, where the beer flows freely and smoke billows generously from a backyard log fire. Like local heroes POND, part of Dave’s appeal is non-musical, in that they are good-natured, jovial guys – and why not? That very attitude is discernable in their tunes, in the vibe that pervades their shows; though not without evidence of a fierce work ethic and serious pop smarts. Two things can happen now: Dave can get huge, with “the Jays” acknowledging their undeniable hooks and charms, with tween hipsters blogging gifs of their faces on tumblr, with NME hailing them as the “band that saved indie rock” before slandering them the following week; or they can eschew the glory and keep plugging away at crafting understated gems in the garage. Either way, they’ll still shout you a lager. Or stow you away in a guitar case. They’re that sort of band.

BEE MASK @ PICA BAR, SATURDAY JUNE 16

Andrew Ryan

It’s a good day so far. Super sleep-ins make way to excellent midday breakfasts. By the time you’re ready for the world to stimulate you, suddenly there’s a mid-afternoon concert happening in an art gallery bar, suddenly filled with bean bags for the occasion. There are a heap of sound wizards present, both familiar faces and mysterious strangers from near and far. There’s also a delicious array of hard-to-find lager. Why would we be anywhere else?

Ben Taaffe stamps my inner wrist with an inky brown bee. As I drift toward the tones of MICHAEL TERREN, the tones of Michael Terren drift back, and dance gently across my tympanic cavity. Terren is a handsome youth who would look out of place on neither a surfboard nor an Elven throne. As it happens however, he’s perched behind a laptop with a keyboard perched atop his lap. The sounds flowing from the PA are hybrid soundscapes of milky synth, twisted glitch piano, pattering digital noise and distant downbeat cacophony. Rarely does he linger on anything that might be called a beat, but when he does he grins and enjoys it – while there’s an arcane melancholy to the whole thing, Terren’s not averse to the odd pop-music motif. It all swells and subsides and drains you like going for a really great run with none of the interim discomfort. I’m reminded of Oneohtrix Point Never, but this is yet more maundering, otherworldly and fugue-inducing. A local wunderkind to watch without a doubt.

ADAM TRAINER keeps so busy with ventures such as writing, DJing, becoming a doctor, organizing swell events and being musical director for RTRfm that occasionally one forgets he’s actually a you-beaut musician. Rest assured, he still is. Erstwhile member of top-vintage indie group Radarmaker, Trainer nowadays performs solo experimental sets with all the beauty and frequency of Halley’s comet. Today he’s tucked behind laptop, loop pedal, telecaster and intriguing miscellany. He tickles electric guitar strings, just enough to elicit a rolling plash of chimes, washing together in a pale blue glow. The set blooms into a slow-motion journey, with e-bow and screwdriver-wrought drones coalescing into clouds of strange harmony. A handheld eastern “spinning drum” instrument adds layers of pitter-patter like wooden rain on a liquid roof, before a somewhat shonky-sounding frequency generator device melds its various discordant buzzes into an unlikely mellifluence. That sentence was verbose, but the music’s not: beautifully minimal, decidedly understated. It rounds out with some soft looping vocals, live from the doc’s mouth: it’s a great conclusion, bringing a sense of vulnerability and personality to the proceedings.

The crowd has swollen like a fresh bee sting; the windows of PICA bar look out onto a darkened sky. Adorned with his infamous WARDEN cap, Craic-hunter CRAIG MCELHINNEY embarks on another casual odyssey to the inner recesses of the mind and the outer reaches of the audible sound-spectrum. There’s an eerie benign violence to Craig’s soundscapes this time – gossamer cyclone chaos, beautiful from afar, but dangerous to enter into. This enticing nightmarishness – punctuated by soothing melodies and sitar purrs – reminds me of Manila psych explorer Ensemble Economique (Brian Pyle). But there’s a distinctive “Craigness” that permeates his every musical move, a deep vibe that you can’t help but immerse yourself in fully, and come out the other end feeling renewed, curious and luminous.

A hooded man is sitting near the speakers throughout Craig’s set. It finishes, he unclasps his hands, smiles and stands up. He’s Chris Madak – or BEE MASK – from Cleveland, and before long he too has ensconced himself in a nest of analogue synthesizers and esoteric equipment. Without wanting to read too much into his pseudonym (I have no idea what it’s supposed to signify, it could be totally arbitrary) it seems kind of apt, as the set continually offers what might be artificial renderings of natural phenomena. Singing glass and rumbling thunder, dripping dew and howling wind, all re-imagined by an android in a space station. Bubbling brook/bongwater in stark, four-dimensional clarity. Meteorites of pure data shot through misty sine-wave stratospheres. The music of Bee Mask is not very “stylized” – I find it hard to place within the current spectrum of electronic auteurs. It’s not dance music, it’s not abstract noise or academic sound art, and it doesn’t belong to the allusive school of droney, mystic soundscapes. It feels like there’s a raw sense of sonic adventure, an eagerness to structure synthetic bloops into something very listenable, but in no way related to pop music. Which is as admirable as it is intriguing.

As friends converge, both tranquilized and invigorated, the night remains young; the vibes unparalleled. Walking out the doorway and into the frosty dark, the possibilities would seem plentiful on any Saturday evening. Having just traversed four virtual universes of sound, they now feel endless.

LAURA @ MOJO'S, SUNDAY JULY 10

Andrew Ryan

I’m pawing at some mint leaves when the opening guitar notes from Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” start buzzing out from my jeans pocket. A glance at the phone screen tells me it’s the Cool Perth Nights Boss Dogg.

“-Ello?” I shove a handful of mint into a little plastic bag.

“Do you wanna – ”

Some old lady is tugging the elbow of my jumper and trying to tell me something

“ – review”

“Nice jumper,” (Anonymous Nanna)

“Oh, right, thanks”

“ – Sunday’s show –“
“Oh! Yes. Definitely. I was planning on it.”

“I don’t mind if you wanna say our set was sloppy,” (Boss Dogg’s band had been performing). Sloppy… need to get yoghurt and beetroot for the dip. But first. Flat leaf parsley.

I trundle the trolley towards the dairy isle. The soft, brightly lit chill of the milk-wall reminds me of how my Sunday night had begun. A two-piece act strolling silently onstage and taking their respective positions between drum kit and Les Paul. RACE TO YOUR FACE do what their name says, but although they come at you with arresting swiftness, they don’t do any damage on impact; it’s more a soothing labyrinth of polyrhythm, harmony and slow-building intensity. The icy-clean guitar work of Chris Sorgiovanni is delivered with unbelievable nonchalance, considering it boasts the technical wizardry of Marnie Stern and the compositional prowess of Mogwai (big words, sure, but these are big sounds). I’ve long desired to see Hella live, to experience Zach Hill ripping me a new one; Lee Canestrini’s drum-pummeling belongs to a similar school and these guys exude similar vibes, though they lean towards soft-edged mellifluousness not unlike local collective Apricot Rail. The only downlights are when Race To Your Face seem satisfied to rest on the safeness of pedestrian post-rock pleasantry, which is something that hasn’t been noteworthy for at least ten years and in the meantime has become a cliché. But luckily, these moments are few and far between – for the most part, the razor-sharp dynamic drumming meets the tastefully mindblowing guitar in a way that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally rich, and I haven’t been so impressed by a local set for some time.

Yoghurt. Greek Style. This one looks good. WA made, that’s good, keep it local, carbon footprint and whatever. Oh yeah. The LONG LOST BROTHERS, that’s right. I’d been so emotionally massaged by the erratic yet lovely tones of Racey Facey that I was drifting into a dim hypnagogic realm, so I went for a stroll in the cool night air to wake up and for good measure, inserted a coffee from Mrs Brown’s into my mouth. Upon returning to Mojo’s, the LLB’s are about to fire up. Two guitars, bass and drums isn’t a setup that piques my curiosity nor arouses particular expectation, but I’ve experienced Andrew Ryan’s songwriting via Fall Electric and other things, Matt Rudas’ (Tucker B’s) wild genius, plus the respective excellences of Simon Struthers (Adam Said Galore) and Mitch McDonald (The Love Junkies, Sonpsilo Circus), so there’s an evident pedigree that adds gravity to the situation. Mind you, these brothers don’t carry themselves with the air of self-satisfied veterans or a ‘supergroup’ or any of that twaddle: on the contrary, the energy is more like that of a young garage band, altogether excited by the raw power and ugly beauty of rock music, and the wondrous range of possible sonic algorithms to be had with those four classic instruments and a couple of voices. At the same time, the songs do betray the members’ experience and gradually honed finesse: there is not much in the way of noodling of overt experimentalism, but these tunes are smart and totally transcend any kind of indie rock clichés. “China” – a soon-to-be single – has the undeniable quality of “good song-ness” even on first listen; its catchiness owes nothing to inane repetition, and everything to wise songcraft. “Black Navaho” and “Snakes and Ladders” are further pop gems with integrity: subtle but driving, and rough around the edges. I wouldn’t say – as Boss Dogg Ryan did – that it’s a sloppy set; its vaguely loose moments complement the (slight) blokiness of the overall sound well. I’d seen these bros before, but never listened closely enough to get as much out of their songs as they put in. This is a band that deserves a close, attentive ear, for their deceptively approachable tunes are rich with ideas.

I glide around the corner, past coffee and dog treats. On my quest for burghul (most unappealingly named foodstuff ever), I pass the dark chocolate and my mind is drawn yet again to Sunday night, now to the headliners, who’d finally made the journey across the great Australian Bight to play to their Perth fans over a decade since formation. LAURA are post-rock heroes in their hometown, since the substantial success of 2005 album ‘Mapping Your Dreams’ and subsequent tour with the monolithis ISIS. They’ve since released 3 more albums and an EP, toured with Cult Of Luna and Mono, and visited Japan. Tonight looks set to be a comparatively low-key affair, but in the most charming way possible; a sultry winding down of the week, a loud and brooding ‘up yours’ to the notion that Sunday night should comprise quietude and inactivity. Boasting cello, three guitars, a menagerie of synths, samplers and electro-acoustic drum configurations, the Laura live show is quite the parade of bodies and equipment. For all this, the sound is surprisingly neat and sparse – exploding into sprawling, dense jams only at the moments it most needs to. Unlike lots of “post-rock,” there are numerous lyrical tracts among the instrumental grooves and swells, though these are frequently clouded with reverb and effects. Across the hour-plus set, we hear many of the directions this genre can take: leaning variously towards metal, noise rock (dissonant guitar-feedback squeals make regular appearances), pseudo-orchestral arrangements and trip hop. There is, mind you, a definite unity to Laura’s sound, particularly notable given the band’s relatively long life-span so far. They’re certainly not reinventing the wheel, and often their tunes are more like moody vignettes than distinctive and memorable melodic or rhythmic statements. But those vignettes are captivating: dark, sweet yet earthy – like the beetroot I’m grabbing now. In any case, they put on a quality show, thick with energy and focus; and if their newer tunes tonight are anything to go by, Laura may be headed for even better things in years to come.

I return home with my many ingredients, which are multifarious and pretty exciting, though not more so than the numerous sounds that fed into the three sets on Sunday night. A storm now brews outside my window: but will it be a more refreshing storm than Race to Your Face’s, a more compelling storm than the Long Lost Brothers’, a darker and more dynamic storm than Laura’s? I doubt it. But maybe. It does look like a pretty badass storm.